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Minnesota records highest Covid case rate in US

The state performed well in earlier waves of the pandemic, but the delta variant and a return to school have combined with staff shortages to overwhelm hospitals.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — After a slow climb up the ranks of nationwide Covid-19 case rates, Minnesota has reached the top, beating out every other state in the country with 5,266 new cases on Friday. 

The spike brought the state’s weekly case rate to 472 per 100,000, the highest in the country. No new deaths were reported with the surge, though the state did not provide death data for Veterans Day because of the holiday. Minnesota hospitals were treating 1,282 Covid-19 patients as of Friday. 

The uptick represents a major turn for Minnesota, which spent the first several months of the pandemic outperforming its Midwestern neighbors in preventing virus spread. Case rates have been on the upswing in the state for several months, coinciding with the rise of the delta variant. Even so, they haven’t reached the heights of 2020, when testing positivity rates reached above 10% at points. At the moment, positivity rates are just below that “high-risk” threshold at 9.7%. 

When asked for comment, Minnesota Department of Health spokespeople pointed to a press briefing held by Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Wednesday. At that meeting, Malcolm said the high rates of new cases had created difficulties with the verification process for Covid-19 intakes, and expressed frustration with misinformation about the disease and the phenomenon of “Covid fatigue.” 

“The tragedy of this current spike in cases is that more than ever, we have the tools and the knowledge to minimize the impact of this virus. But a sizeable number of people, here in Minnesota and in other states, are not using those tools,” she said. “Choosing not to use those tools has a cost.” 

She also pointed to nationwide staffing shortages as exacerbating troubles with hospital capacity. Plans to open more overflow facilities were progressing but had yet to come to fruition, she said. 

“The limiting factor is really the availability of staff,” Malcolm said. She pointed to one facility that had been opened in the northern city of Brainerd. That was staffed by a combination of National Guard personnel and federal public health workers. “There aren’t an infinite number of either of those…. Very few facilities – like none – are able to take more patients without supplementary staff.” 

The nation at large is also seeing 2021’s second coronavirus bump, with a new-infection average of 82,651 per day. Reuters placed that number at 33% of the peak daily average on Jan. 7, 2021. 

The Minnesota Department of Health’s daily update placed the state’s total infections at 837,765 – about 1.7% of the nation’s total of 47,134,261 infections – with 8,996 deaths and 9,122 reinfections.

The state’s vaccination rate is also high for the Midwest; 74.4% of Minnesotans over 18 have a full series of vaccines, for a total rate of 61.9% and 7,306,683 total vaccine doses. That beats out neighboring Wisconsin, where the total vaccine rate is 59%, and edges out Illinois, where vaccination rates are 61.4%. 

The state initially fell short of its goal of reaching 70% vaccination by July 1 for then-eligible residents, but reached that goal by President Joe Biden’s July 4 target date. Eligible Minnesotans have also received over 665,000 vaccine booster shots, 

State officials have cited the reopening of in-person schooling as a major factor in the virus’ upswing, with a series of outbreaks in K-12 schools throughout September. The highest number of cases is still among young adults, peaking between ages 20 and 24 and only substantially dropping at age 40, but children from ages 5-9, 10-14 and 15-19 have also been significantly impacted; the latter group has seen 66,130 cases in Minnesota.

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