REGIONAL- While a majority of states have seen significant decreases in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta-variant-driven fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota continues to buck …
REGIONAL- While a majority of states have seen significant decreases in cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta-variant-driven fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota continues to buck the trend, enough so that Gov. Tim Walz last week readied the Minnesota National Guard to assist.
“Rising hospital cases have left our hospitals too crowded, and we need action now,” Walz said in an Oct. 15 press release. “That’s why I’m putting the National Guard on alert and taking critical steps to help free up hospital beds and make sure that Minnesotans can continue to get the care they need.”
Minnesota is one of only four states that reported rising COVID hospitalizations over the past two weeks, according to a Monday report by Becker’s Hospital Review. Minnesota’s 22-percent increase in hospitalizations trailed only Michigan and was well ahead of Montana and Colorado. This occurred while COVID cases nationwide declined for a fourth consecutive week.
Walz also expanded access to the COVID-19 Emergency Staffing Pool, which allows long-term care facilities to request short-term emergency temporary staffing and directed the Department of Human Services to free up capacity at long-term care facilities through modifications of regulatory constraints. Walz’s actions were in response to a backlog of hospitalized COVID patients who could not be transferred to long-term care facilities to continue their recoveries because of staffing shortages that limited the number of available beds.
Demand for hospital beds has remained high, fluctuating day-to-day as COVID patients add to the number of non-COVID patients needing space. In the past week, the number of ICU beds available in northeastern Minnesota has swung from as few as two to as many as 11, with Tuesday’s number sitting at five.
However, signs that this round of the pandemic may have reached its peak in Minnesota could be found in the number of reported new cases statewide and in St. Louis County this week. Case totals on Tuesday, the day the state reports combined data for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, were down 20 percent statewide from the week prior. The report doesn’t establish a trend, as numbers can vary week to week due to delays in reporting, and there’s also been a drop in testing volume that could depress the total. But the state’s test positivity level also fell below seven percent for the first time since Oct. 5, another potentially encouraging sign from a key measure of pandemic activity.
New cases also have dipped in St. Louis County. The seven-day case average appears to have hit a peak of 116.9 on Oct. 5 and steadily declined to 93.4 on Oct. 13. Sixty-four new cases were added on Oct. 13, a dramatic drop from the 185 cases reported for Oct. 4. And the test positivity rate for the county as reported in the state’s weekly COVID status update, 4.5 percent, was well below that of the state and also below the five percent threshold indicating aggressive community spread.
Northeast Minnesota also has the third-lowest number of new cases per capita among the eight regions defined by the state health department.
New COVID cases were reported in all six of the North Country zip codes monitored by the Timberjay last week, with an overall decline from increases seen the prior week. Ely had the biggest increase with eight new cases, followed by Cook with seven. Embarrass had five, Tower, four, Soudan, two, and Orr, one.
Walz also activated the National Guard to assist in opening six additional rapid testing sites and plans to expand availability of the tests at existing Community Testing Program locations. The state has already doubled the testing capacity at the DECC in Duluth.
In addition to continuing to offer COVID vaccinations, St. Louis County Public Health also conducts free three-day tests three days per week on the Iron Range. Tests are available Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Eveleth Auditorium, Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to noon at the AEOA parking lot in Virginia, and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Lions Club building at Olcott Park in Virginia. The department’s Public Health Mobile Trailer used for testing will be moved from the AEOA lot to the Iron Trails Motors Event Center once the parking lot and sidewalks are finished.
“Kids Deserve a Shot” is the latest Walz vaccine incentive program to be announced, unveiled last week to encourage 12 to 17-year-olds to get vaccinated.
The program consists of two sets of rewards: a $200 Visa gift card for those who start and complete their vaccine series over the next six weeks, and five drawings for $100,000 Minnesota college scholarships for any Minnesotan 12-17 years old with a complete vaccine series. Those vaccinated prior to the start of the program are not eligible to receive a gift card. Parents or guardians can register their children online to participate in the gift card giveaway and scholarship drawings by going to https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/vaccine-rewards/kids-deserve-a-shot/. Full program rules and details are also available on the site.
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