Minnesota was running out of hospital beds for Covid patients and health care workers to take care of them Wednesday as the state contended with the biggest surge in new cases and deaths this year.
Overwhelmingly, the latest victims are unvaccinated Minnesotans who caught the fast-spreading Delta variant, health officials said.
And as the weather gets cooler, the potential to catch the virus will only increase as people head indoors, they said.
“It is devastating to see the recurrent surge with concerns that the fall may prove to be even worse with cooler weather,” Dr. Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine told NBC News.
With a vaccination rate of 59 percent, Minnesota is actually doing better than neighboring Wisconsin (57 percent), South Dakota (52 percent) and Iowa (55 percent), and much higher than North Dakota, where just 45 percent are fully vaccinated, according to figures compiled by the Mayo Clinic.
The national average is 56 percent, with Vermont at the top with 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated and West Virginia at the bottom with just 41 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But Minnesota’s 8.3 percent rate of new infections over the last seven days has been among the highest in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With the amount of virus that’s out there and the amount of population that is not protected by the vaccine, there’s unfortunately plenty of room for the virus to still do its harm,” Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, said at a recent news conference.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, one of the leading newspapers in the state, described the current situation as a “gut punch to public health leaders who hoped vaccination progress would knock out the pandemic.”
Khan said the exasperation is understandable.
“Throughout the whole Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen surges happen in different states at different times that haven’t always made sense,” said Khan. “These numbers in Minnesota concern me not just for the patients with Covid-19 but for all the patients with heart disease and cancer who are not able to get routine care as health care systems are at maximal capacity. With an effective vaccine, we should not be having the same conversations that feel like 'Groundhog Day.'”
The surge is a hallmark of school reopenings in September that led to more transmissions, said M. Kumi Smith, an assistant professor in epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
Minnesota health officials on Tuesday reported 7,942 more Covid cases and 10 deaths, nine of whom were senior citizens.
Since the start of the pandemic, Minnesota has logged 746,768 infections and 8,330 deaths from Covid-19, according to the latest state health department figures.
But now there are fewer health care workers to deal with the crisis than there were at the start of the pandemic, Malcolm said.
“What’s important to understand is that this isn’t so much about the physical asset of a hospital bed or a ventilator, and those were big focuses earlier in the pandemic, but now this is really an issue of health care worker capacity,” Malcolm said.
Why are they leaving? “Extreme stress and burnout,” Malcolm said.