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ICU beds fill across Minnesota as COVID numbers continue to climb

Minnesota health officials say the state is currently in the middle of a coronavirus “blizzard” with its rate of new infections the worst in the nation over the past seven days.

More than 95 percent of available inpatient hospital beds are filled across the state which has caused backups in some emergency departments, according to health care providers.

For all of northeastern Minnesota, from Duluth to the North Shore to the Iron Range, there are a total of five intensive care unit beds available as of Nov. 15.

Regardless of space, there are no ICU beds in Cook County, according to North Shore Health Hospital Administrator Kimber Wraalstad. There are a total of 16 medical beds at the local hospital in Grand Marais. All patients who need to be in an ICU are transferred, Wraalstad confirmed Nov. 16. During situations when there is limited space for ICU beds in Duluth, patients are occasionally transferred to the Twin Cities or as far away as North Dakota, Wraalstad previously told WTIP.

In Cook County, at least 23 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among local residents during the past 10 days. Vaccination events, including for boosters and kids in the 5-11 age range and others who are not yet vaccinated continue to be offered locally.

Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager told WTIP Nov. 16 the current case count stands at 303, which is an uptick of 52 since Oct. 19.

“We continue to see a relatively high proportion of cases in youth,” Grinager said.

Grinager said local public health officials continue to work closely with schools and other partner agencies to reach out to those who have been directly exposed to COVID-19 to provide appropriate public health recommendations as part of the county’s contact tracing protocols.

In addition to an uptick in the case count for local youth, Grinager said public health officials in Cook County are seeing a significant number of breakthrough cases. Grinager estimates about one-third of the recent cases are breakthrough cases, meaning those testing positive have been vaccinated for the virus.

“It’s a big reason that we are pushing the boosters,” Grinager said, “especially for our 65 and older group.”

Grinager said it’s important to understand that even as rates of breakthrough cases rise, healthcare officials are not seeing an increase in severe disease, hospitalization and death in people who are fully vaccinated. Grinager said recent data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows people 65 and older who are not fully vaccinated are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized and 19 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated.

“This is important, because regionally and statewide, our hospital systems are stressed,” Grinager said.

Click here to register for a vaccination event in Cook County.

COVID-19 booster and pediatric vaccinations should help stabilize the rate of new infections, but health officials say they won’t have an immediate impact because it takes a while to develop immunity. State health leaders encouraged Minnesotans to protect themselves with mask-wearing and social distancing measures.

The state on Monday reported another 5,266 coronavirus infections and a 9.7 percent positivity rate of COVID-19 diagnostic testing that brings Minnesota close to its 10 percent high-risk threshold for widespread transmission for the first time since last December, the Associated Press reports.

Breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated Minnesotans are a factor in the latest wave of new cases because those who were inoculated last winter need booster shots.

Hospitalizations remain more common among the unvaccinated, who are more likely to need intensive care and ventilators for treatment. Unvaccinated people made up 70% of the 709 people with COVID-19 who were newly admitted to hospitals in the last six days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.