Malcolm decries ‘alarming spike’ in Minnesota COVID-19 cases

Published 11:32 am Thursday, November 11, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS — COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached their highest level of the year in Minnesota and hospital capacity continues to tighten throughout the state amid an alarming surge in cases, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported 5,277 new cases and 43 new deaths, raising the state’s pandemic totals to 831,669 confirmed cases and 8,925 deaths. Minnesota hospitals were caring for 1,159 COVID-19 patients, including 257 in intensive care units.

During a briefing for reporters, Malcolm called the new case and death numbers “extraordinarily high and concerning. … Right now we find ourselves in a really truly alarming spike” in new cases.

“Every day now we’re seeing dozens of Minnesotans dying from an illness that they didn’t have to get, and that is beyond heartbreaking for all of us doing this work,” Malcolm said. ”The tragedy of this current spike in cases is that more than ever, we have the tools and the knowledge to minimize the impact of this virus.”

Those tools include vaccinations, masking in public and staying home when sick, she said. Most Minnesotans are vaccinated, but too many still aren’t, she said.

The proportion of Minnesotans ages 12 and over who have had at least their first vaccine dose has reached 74%, according to the department’s data. Meanwhile, 70% of the 12-and-over population has completed their vaccine series, and 67% of Minnesotans ages 5 and up have received at least one dose.

Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, the department’s infectious disease director, said the problem of “waning immunity,” which appears to show up around six months after vaccination, seems to be a factor in the rise of breakthrough cases, which tend to be most frequent in older patients, which was the group that was vaccinated first.

Given that hospitals are crowded and many people still aren’t vaccinated, health officials are encouraging everyone to think carefully about their plans for the upcoming holidays, Ehresmann said. She noted that the Centers for Disease Control recently updated its holiday guidance. It is stressing the value of vaccinations; wearing masks in public indoor settings; avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated places; not hosting or attending gatherings if sick or showing symptoms; and delaying travel until fully vaccinated.

“Given the COVID blizzard that’s hitting us in Minnesota, it’s a really good idea to wear a mask even if you’re fully vaccinated … if a member of your household has a weakened immune system and is at increased risk of severe disease, or if someone in your family is unvaccinated,” Ehresmann said.

Ehresmann recommended getting tested before holiday gatherings and travel — especially for anyone with symptoms or who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Testing and staying away from crowds before traveling is especially important for college students returning home, she said.

Malcolm said her staff was making “steady progress” toward reducing a backlog in new case numbers that developed over the weekend, when the number of lab reports coming in exceeded the department’s capacity to process them. Separately, software problems that developed Monday, resulting in a net vaccination overcount of about 25,000, have been fixed and will be reflected in Thursday’s numbers, she said.

Gov. Tim Walz announced earlier Wednesday that a second skilled-nursing facility had begun serving as an alternative care site as part of efforts he announced last month to relieve the pressure on hospitals.

A team of 14 Minnesota National Guard members and nine federal Public Health Service nurses will treat patients at Good Samaritan Society–Bethany in Brainerd. The site will accept up to 34 patients from central and northern Minnesota hospitals.

Last week, Benedictine St. Gertrude’s in Shakopee made 30 beds available with help from the National Guard. Both facilities are taking patients who no longer require acute care but aren’t well enough to go home.