COVID-19 hospitalizations increased to 368 in Minnesota on Monday — the highest single-day count since March 7 — amid a continued increase in coronavirus spread across the state.
The total is well below the levels that exhausted hospital capacity earlier in the pandemic, but the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations requiring intensive care also increased from a recent low of 20 in late April to 36 on Monday.
State health officials encouraged Minnesotans to assess individual risks of viral transmission ahead of travels and group activities in the coming weeks, and to remain up to date with COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
Minnesota remains stuck with only 49% of people 5 and older up to date, because new vaccine recipients are being offset by people who haven't received recommended boosters to maintain immunity levels. More than 83% of seniors are up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations — a key group that has sustained most of Minnesota's 12,534 COVID-19 deaths and all five deaths reported Tuesday.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday also reported another 5,117 coronavirus infections that were detected over the weekend. Minnesota right now is identifying 1,800 infections per day — the highest rate since mid-February. The total doesn't include infections discovered through at-home tests that aren't reported publicly.
A fast-spreading BA.2 coronavirus variant is fueling the growth in infections but isn't causing as high a rate of severe illness as other variants, partly because people have been vaccinated or had recent infections during the winter omicron pandemic wave. State epidemiologists remain hopeful that the latest rise in cases won't translate into more severe outcomes.
"What is the new relationship when we look at, how do cases impact hospitalizations, mortality, hospital resources?" said Kathy Como-Sabetti, a COVID-19 epidemiologist with the state health department. "All those things hopefully have improved."
Viral levels have been increasing statewide, based on sampling through May 4 of sewage from 40 wastewater treatment plants serving 67% of Minnesota's population. Viral loads remain highest in wastewater samples from the Twin Cities metro area, and they have shown early signs of leveling off in southwestern and northwestern Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota is overseeing the statewide viral surveillance in wastewater, hoping to identify a level or rate of increase that can accurately forecast exponential growth of COVID-19 and severe illness. Changes in the infectiousness of different variants, and immunity levels in the population, make such predictions challenging, said Mark Osborn, the U microbiologist overseeing the wastewater research.
"Where is the inflection point?" he said. "At what point do we say it has reached such a level that we would expect hospitalizations to follow suit?"