As Thanksgiving approaches, pandemic digs in

Published 2:24 pm Friday, November 19, 2021

Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data shows a pandemic hitting new highs for 2021, putting more pressure on hospitals with no signs yet of retreat.

Key metrics are at or near their highest levels since December. The rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is hovering at just under 10 percent, according to MPR News calculations, about twice the rate officials find concerning.

While there are some signs new-case acceleration is slowing from the prior week, the numbers remain high heading toward a Thanksgiving holiday sure to bring people together indoors for celebrations, the kind of conditions that lead to more viral spread.

Hospitalizations are especially concerning. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,414 people are hospitalized now with COVID with 340 needing intensive care, the highest since early December.

Hospital executives across the state say COVID patients combined with other care needs are overwhelming short-staffed care centers. Hospitals in this wave are seeing more people needing treatment for other illnesses along with people who delayed getting care over the past year and a half.

State officials have been pleading with Minnesotans to take care against spreading the disease as Thanksgiving and other year-end celebrations approach.

There’s also rising concern that schools, especially elementary schools where children have been too young to vaccinate, may be helping accelerate community spread.

Asked earlier this week why conditions have worsened so much lately, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the picture wasn’t clear but that waning immunity from vaccine shots administered earlier in the year played a role, along with people moving indoors with the weather and the highly contagious nature of the virus’ delta variant.

Driven by the highly contagious delta variant, the entire state shows a high level of COVID-19 transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current surge is being driven largely by rising case counts in greater Minnesota.

The count of known, active cases rose to 37,031, another 2021 high.

The state’s death toll stands at 9,155, including 30 deaths newly reported on Friday. Deaths typically follow a surge in cases and hospitalizations. In past COVID-19 waves, it’s been the last of the key metrics to improve.

Friday’s numbers contained a hopeful glimmer: Cases were up 6 percent over last Friday. Cases from the prior Friday were up 43% week-over-week.

Minnesota seems better positioned now than during its fall 2020 and spring 2021 spikes. Nearly 75% of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with nearly 71% now completely vaccinated.

The state is seeing progress in getting booster shots into Minnesotans who’ve already been vaccinated and are pushing now to expand boosters to all eligible adults.

However, the struggle continues to get first shots into more Minnesotans. Wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.