St. Mary's Hospital

Dr. Mark Wylam at a medical ICU at St. Mary’s Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 31, 2020. (Evan Frost/MPR News)

Minnesota’s summer-fall COVID-19 surge stubbornly refuses to retreat, although the newest numbers offer some signs conditions may be starting to plateau.

Known, active cases appear to be flattening — the count is high at 21,605, but that’s the lowest it’s been since Tuesday of last week. Newly reported cases came in at 2,388 on Wednesday, the lowest daily count in two weeks.

Hospitalizations, however, continue to rise, putting more pressure on the state’s short-staffed care systems. There are 990 people in Minnesota hospitals now with COVID, with 260 needing intensive care — the highest counts so far in 2021.

There are more COVID patients hospitalized in greater Minnesota than in the Twin Cities region, continuing a pattern that emerged last week.

The rate of tests coming back positive, which stayed relatively stable through the spring and early summer, has been edging higher over the past weeks.

The seven-day average is running at more than 7 percent — higher than the 5 percent officials find concerning — although Wednesday’s seven-day rate was down a tick from from Tuesday.

While the positive test rate is not leaping as it did in last year’s late-fall wave, it continues to signal significant community spread.

Driven by the highly contagious delta variant, the entire state now shows a high level of COVID-19 transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teens continue to be among the hardest hit in new cases.

Around two-thirds of the newly reported cases are from outside the seven-county Twin Cities region, with northwestern Minnesota hit particularly hard.

The state’s death toll stands at 8,354, including 24 deaths newly reported on Wednesday. Those include three people in their 30s and four in their 50s.

Generally, Minnesota remains better positioned now than during its fall and spring spikes. Seventy-three percent of state residents age 12 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 69 percent now completely vaccinated.

It remains a huge challenge, though, to get more Minnesotans vaccinated, and wide gaps remain in the vaccination rates among regions and counties.

State health officials and hospital leaders last week painted an increasingly worrisome picture of a Minnesota health care system that’s stressed, short-staffed and struggling to meet the needs of rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 and other patients.

“Across the state, we have more hospitals reporting that they have zero available adult medical-surgical beds and zero adult ICU beds available during this latest surge,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Malcolm told reporters.

She pleaded with eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated and take precautions to slow the spread of the disease. “There’s unfortunately plenty of room for the virus to do its harm.”

© 2020 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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