COVID-19 testing, positivity rate reach 2021 highs in Minnesota

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Minneapolis Star Tribune 08 October, 2021 - 12:30pm 10 views

Health officials continue to stress delta variant's impact on hospitals, health care workers

KARE11.com 08 October, 2021 - 02:10pm

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ST PAUL, Minn. — Thursday, Oct. 7  

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and three of Minnesota's leading health care executives update the state's COVID-19 situation.

During the media briefing, Malcolm brought up concerns with delta variant and the stress its putting on hospitals across the state.

"Current level of hospitalizations and ICU use are now above the level we saw in the spring of 2021 surge, and we have just 1% of hospital beds available in the metro region, 5% in the southeast region and 7% in the central region," Malcolm said. "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, and these are numbers we didn't see even in the worst of last year's fall surge."

Malcolm added that not only is this impacting COVID-19 patients, but also people seeking hospital care for other critical conditions.

"What's important to understand is that this isn't so much about the physical asset of a hospital bed or a ventilator – and those were big focuses earlier in the pandemic – but now this is really an issue of health care worker capacity," Malcolm said. "There are actually fewer health care workers on the job today that there were last year due to the extreme stress and burnout that they have faced for over 18 months now."

Dr. Kevin Croston, CEO at North Memorial Health, spoke firsthand about the impact COVID-19 is having on the hospital system.

"We're once again seeing a significant number of emergency visits and in in-patient care due to COVID-19 and highly contagious delta variant," Croston said. "And both of our hospitals have full ICUs and full medical surgical units."

Croston added that 100% of the COVID patients in their ICUs are unvaccinated and 75% of the COVID patients in the medical surgical units are unvaccinated.

Croston also spoke about the impact this has on transitional care units and senior campuses, which are also at full capacity.

"The problem with that is it causes a significant backup because of hospitals' inability to transition customers from the hospitals into these units," Croston said. "Sometimes we have patients staying in the hospital for three weeks that could be discharged because there's just no room (in the transitional care units and senior campuses)."

As for pediatric care, Dr. Marc Gorelick, President and CEO at Children’s Minnesota, said that while COVID-19 is impacting adults at a much higher rate, children are not immune to the coronavirus. He added that it's also impacting their ability to treat other conditions.

Gorelick said there has been an unexpected surge in RSV, which is typically a winter respiratory virus, as well as an increase in acute mental health issues with children. This along with expected seasonal asthma and injuries has put additional stress on pediatric hospital care.

"All of this has led to record hospital occupancy, a near doubling of ER visits since last spring and a 17% increase in the last month alone, and hundreds of additional children seeking care in our outpatient clinics in our urgent care each day." 

The deadly reach of the COVID virus continues to be felt across Minnesota, with health officials reporting an additional 32 fatalities Thursday.

Data released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) show 18 of those deaths were recorded in the most recent reporting period, while 13 date back to September and one all the way back to March of 2021. Two deaths involved people in their early 30s, one each from Anoka and Steele Counties. A person in their early 40s from Ramsey County also passed away from the virus.

Total deaths in the state have now reached 8,275 since the start of the pandemic.

MDH says an additional 2,674 people tested positive for COVID, pushing total cases to 732,001. The new infections are based on results from 41,931 tests (32,654 PCR, 9,277 antigen) processed in private and state labs, a relatively robust volume.

The most recent MDH weekly COVID report indicates 996 schools reported at least one case between Sept. 19 and Oct.2, with 159 buildings recording five or more cases, considered an outbreak. 

COVID hospitalizations remain high across the state, with the number of people being treated for the virus on an inpatient basis was up to 881 as of Wednesday. Of those patients 234 were listed in ICU. Across the Twin Cities hospital system available non-ICU beds have dipped below 1%, with just 34 vacancies metro-wide. ICU bed supply is slightly better with 2.2% of available beds open (14 vacant).

The state vaccine dashboard says 6,533,896 total doses of vaccine have been administered to Minnesotans, with 58.8% of them Pfizer, 36.8% Moderna and 4.4% Johnson & Johnson. Of those age 16 and up, 3,414,238 have received at least one shot (73.7%) with 3,244,538 of those (70.2%) having completed their COVID series to be considered fully vaccinated.

Both COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to trend higher in data released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), but there are also extraneous factors in the latest numbers. 

MDH took reports on 3,886 new cases in the last day, but the department says some of them were actually recorded over the weekend but did not appear in Tuesday's numbers due to a technical glitch. The new infections bring Minnesota's total cases to 729,334 since the pandemic began. 

The new cases are based on results from 38,560 tests (26,380 PCR, 12,180 antigen) processed in private and state labs. That is a relatively high volume mid-week, and is likely due to increased testing of students to avoid school outbreaks. Health officials consider a positive PCR test a confirmed COVID case, while a positive antigen test is recorded as a probable case. 

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Walz announced that the state is expanding its COVID-19 community testing capacity by adding testing days in Mankato, St. Cloud, Moorhead and Winona. 

Hospitalizations continue to rise, with 864 being treated for COVID on an inpatient basis as of Tuesday. Of those patients, 224 are showing symptoms serious enough to require ICU treatment. Bed availability remains a concern in the Twin Cities metro, with just eight ICU beds (1.3%) open in the system, and a total of 42 non-ICU beds available (1.2% of total supply).

Total hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic have risen to 38,573. 

MDH reported 40 deaths in Wednesday's data, but that number needs to be broken down a bit. Of those fatalities, 15 are from the current reporting period, 23 are from deaths in September that are now being recorded, with one death each from July of 2021 and December of 2020. Six of the deaths occurred in Hennepin County, while Anoka, Dakota and Olmstead Counties reported three apiece.

The vaccine dashboard reflects the slow pace of additional Minnesotans getting immunized. MDH says 73.6% of those 16 and older have received at least one dose (3,412,916 people) with 70.2% of those having completed their shot series to be considered fully vaccinated (3,242,885 people). 

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