Minnesota COVID-19 deaths top 9,000 as new cases soar

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s COVID-19 death toll eclipsed 9,000 people on Tuesday as the state struggled with the nation’s highest rate of new infections and low vaccination rates in certain areas.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 51 new deaths, which raised the state’s pandemic total to 9,047. But the state likely reached the grim toll earlier because of a delay in data reporting due to the Veterans Day holiday last week.

The department also reported 10,913 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, which pushed the state’s pandemic total to 857,791.

Minnesota’s rate of new infections has been the worst in the nation over the past week, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s seven-day rolling average of positive tests reached 10.3%, putting it into the high-risk category for the first time since last winter.

The main reason for the grim numbers is that large segments of Minnesota’s population remain unvaccinated, with some counties at the 40% level, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Many of the state’s children still aren’t vaccinated, Osterholm told WCCO Radio.

The vaccine was recently approved for 5- to 11-year-olds, and although schools are trying to get as many children immunized as possible, there are still many communities  where only half of the 12- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated even though they’ve been eligible for longer.

“There’s still a lot of human wood out there to keep the virus burning,” Osterholm said.

More than 95% of the state’s available hospital beds were occupied as of Tuesday, which has caused backups in emergency departments and delays in getting treatment, according health care providers. The state’s intensive care units remained close to capacity, with only 46 ICU beds free.

Health department figures show that the vast majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated. The state had recorded 72,628 “breakthrough” cases among vaccinated Minnesotans as of Monday, including 3,177 that resulted in hospitalizations and 519 total deaths. But officials have pointed out that breakthrough cases are just a tiny fraction of the state’s overall cases, hospitalizations and deaths.