On Tuesdays, MinnPost provides weekly updates that cover COVID-19 developments in Minnesota from the previous Wednesday to present.
This week in COVID-19 news
Minnesota is in the midst of a surge in COVID-19, brought on by an omicron variant that research suggests is highly transmissible. That has led to a spike in COVID-19 testing demand across the state, straining capacity and leading to long lines at testing centers, long waits for results and scarce rapid at-home testing kits.
On Friday, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters omicron is “circulating like wildfire” across the U.S. and in Minnesota. “Minnesotans need to know that the omicron surge most definitely has reached Minnesota.”
Malcolm said the rush of cases has even outpaced the ability of state health systems to record and process test results. “We’re literally being flooded with these incoming lab reports,” Malcolm said.
Many people are using at-home COVID-19 tests as well, which aren’t reported to the state, meaning daily case numbers announced by the state are becoming “less and less of the full picture and perhaps less useful as we get into the most intense stage of the omicron surge,” Malcolm said.
In the last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced new COVID-19 testing sites in Anoka, Cottage Grove and North Branch, as well as expanded capacity at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul and sites in Inver Grove Heights and Stillwater. Walz also announced a new vaccination site in Oakdale.
Nationally, President Joe Biden announced private health insurance companies will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests each month, beginning on Saturday.
Malcolm said omicron appears to cause less severe illness on average, particularly for people who are vaccinated and who have received a booster dose. But Malcolm said there is significant risk still for the unvaccinated, and said the much larger pool of people who are likely to get sick means hospital systems could still be strained, especially as health care workers get sick themselves.
The commissioner urged people to get vaccinated and boosted and said people should wear high-quality masks, such as KN95s or N95s, and wear them correctly. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating their guidance on masking to recommend people use those more protective masks if they can, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Meanwhile, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm and two other doctors outlined their national strategy for the “new normal” of life with COVID.
Data from the Minnesota Department of Health show the state added 59,324 new COVID-19 cases in the seven days between Jan. 5 and Jan. 11, for an average of 8,474 new cases per day. That’s up from a 4,992 new case daily average the week prior. At the height of an earlier wave of the pandemic in late November of 2020, Minnesota averaged more than 7,000 new cases per day.
Those case numbers were impacted by a large backlog of tests being newly reported. MDH officials said last week that about 135,000 tests weren’t being reported because of a technical processing error, and those tests are being added to case totals as they get processed.
Still, the state is reporting unprecedented numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
The most recent seven-day case positivity average — or the average share of positive cases out of total COVID-19 tests — is 19.1 percent, up from 12 percent the week prior. The rate continues to skyrocket upward and shatters the positivity rates published by the state during past COVID-19 spikes. The data are imperfect, however, given the prevalence of home COVID-19 tests for which results aren’t reported to state health officials.
There have been more breakthrough COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, which early research suggests is more transmissible and avoids vaccine protections against infection better than previous strains of the disease. Still, there are relatively few people who have been hospitalized or who have died of COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated.
As of Dec. 5, the most recent data available, 5,779 of more than 3.35 million fully vaccinated Minnesotans have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 1,117 have died. The data are from before the current omicron surge, however.
Deaths and hospitalizations
Minnesota added 238 new COVID-19 deaths in the last week, up from 201 the week prior. (Deaths did not necessarily occur in the week in which they were reported because deaths are not always reported and confirmed immediately.)
As of Tuesday, 263 people are in intensive care with COVID-19, while 1,265 are hospitalized and not in intensive care. Last Tuesday, 293 were in intensive care and 1,077 were hospitalized and not in intensive care. That uptick in hospitalizations suggests that ICU patients may rise soon as well, despite the recent downturn in intensive care use.
More information on Minnesota’s current hospitalizations here.
The most recent data show 68 percent of Minnesotans, (3.78 million people), had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 63.8 percent of Minnesotans (3.55 million people) had completed the vaccine series. A week ago, 67.6 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose and 63 had completed the vaccine series. More data on the state’s vaccination efforts can be found here.
This week on MinnPost
- Do at-home COVID-19 tests still work if they’ve been sitting out in the cold?
- A staffing ‘emergency’ is forcing big changes at Twin Cities group homes
- Nearly two years into the pandemic, Minnesota still doesn’t have enough COVID-19 tests
- So you’ve just learned you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Now what?
- MinnPost’s COVID-19 dashboard
What we’re reading
- Top UCSF expert shares details of his son catching COVID-19 in San Francisco, from SFGATE.
- Omicron-specific vaccines could be ready by March. Will we need them? Story by NBC News.
- One-way masking works if you’re wearing an N95, reports The Atlantic.