Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Minnesota rose to 1,616 on Thursday, but dwindling numbers of intensive care patients remain a sign of hope in the latest omicron wave of the pandemic.
Non-ICU hospitalizations rose 34% in January, reaching Minnesota’s highest total since Dec. 2, 2020. However, Thursday’s 260 ICU cases represented a 13% decline since the start of this month. State health officials are encouraging people to continue getting COVID-19 vaccines, wearing masks and taking other measures to reduce infection and keep pressure on hospital capacity.
The fast-spreading variant of the omicron coronavirus produced a record number of pandemics in Minnesota, including a 21.6% diagnostic test positivity rate in the week ending Jan. 6. Minnesota also reported 11,560 additional infections and 32 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, raising the pandemic to more than 1.1 million infections and 10,971 deaths.
While more than 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota were in the elderly, Friday’s report included three people in their 30s.
Gov. Tim Walz said Minnesota is probably “in the worst,” but the latest pandemic wave has yet to peak. Modeling projections are unclear, but there are signs in other states and countries that omicron is spreading rapidly but producing a lower rate of severe illness and peaking quickly, he added.
“My hope is, and the evidence seems to back it up, that once it starts going down, it starts going down as fast as we’ve seen it go up,” Walz said after visiting the COVID-19 vaccine site. 19 of the Mall of America. “If that happens, that’s really good news.”
Hospitals remain at or near capacity with more flu combining with COVID-19 than last winter. Minnesota on Thursday reported 418 flu hospitalizations so far this season, down from 35 last flu season.
Minnesota Nurses Association leaders said Thursday they appreciate the state’s $40 million stopgap plan to bring in 350 contact nurses and other health care providers for the next two months, but that longer-term solutions to nursing staffing issues are needed in hospitals.
Kelley Anaas, a critical care nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, said her hospital had beds open for waiting patients who couldn’t be staffed because so many colleagues have COVID-19 and are sick. .
“There hasn’t been a day in the last month that…I haven’t had a text or email asking me if I could be ready to come, even for four hours, just to guide us through this final push that the tail of delta and omicron has brought to us,” she said.
COVID-19 cases in intensive care “continue to be the sickest patients we have ever cared for,” she added.
The omicron wave has also stretched other Minnesota resources as COVID-19 testing hit its highest level since December 2020. St. Cloud-based CentraCare announced Friday it was limiting testing at its sites to only symptomatic patients due to increased demand and declining testing supplies.
The system urged Minnesotans seeking testing out of an abundance of caution, or before group visits or trips, to schedule appointments at free state sites or purchase home testing.
Minnesota’s share of COVID-19 hospitalizations requiring intensive care fell to 16% on Thursday, and health officials hope that’s a sign that omicron is causing a lower rate of serious illness.
Other states have differentiated their hospital data by patients admitted primarily for COVID-19 and those whose infections are secondary to medical concerns requiring hospital care.
Iowa reports that COVID-19 is a secondary diagnosis for 36% of its 871 patients admitted with coronavirus infections. This is an increase from 25% in early December.
Separating the role of COVID-19 in hospitalizations can be difficult, said Dr. Carolyn Ogland, chief medical officer of North Memorial Health, which operates hospitals in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove. She called COVID-19 a “great charade” because of its ability to cause disease on its own or worsen many other types of health conditions.
“People have underlying issues, so heart issues or COPD, that sort of thing,” she said. “Did COVID exacerbate them? That’s the part we don’t know. Were they at risk [for hospitalization] and has COVID pushed them over the edge. That answer is probably, yes, it was COVID.”
Results are more favorable for patients who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, however, and Ogland encouraged people to seek out initial and booster doses.
Minnesota ranks second among states with more than half of its fully vaccinated residents also receiving booster doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, more than 4 million Minnesotans ages 5 and older have received at least the first doses of the vaccine — or 77% of the eligible population.
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