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Minnesota's northern, central counties see worst of COVID surge

The state's case rate has led to strained hospital capacity, with health care providers warning the flood of COVID-19 patients could affect their ability to help patients.

Photo: Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation

ST. PAUL — The number of Minnesotans hospitalized for COVID-19 again broke 2021 records Tuesday, Nov. 16, as the state's outbreak remained among the worst in the United States.

Data released by the state health department Tuesday show 1,348 hospitalized for COVID-19 related illness and 10,913 newly reported infections. Meanwhile, the state reported 51 new deaths after a gap in reporting Monday due to the Veterans Day holiday. More than 9,000 Minnesotans have died of COVID-19.

But despite a worsening outbreak, the likelihood of a new peacetime emergency in Minnesota remains low, said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm, who told reporters on a Tuesday afternoon briefing call that the state will continue to focus on vaccinations and testing.

"We are not anticipating a peacetime emergency," she said. "The governor has always said he never rules that out but ... we're in a position now where even as concerning as these case numbers are, we have the tools to do what we need to do."

With the exception of the far north's Lake of the Woods County, all of Minnesota's counties are currently considered at the highest risk for virus transmission. Rural counties in northern and central parts of the state, which tend to have lower rates of vaccination, are experiencing much higher transmission rates than elsewhere, state health officials said on the Tuesday briefing call.


Minnesota's seven-day case rate per 100,000 people led the nation on Monday when it reached 472, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — triple the U.S. average. The weekly positive test rate exceeded 10%.

The state was closely followed by neighboring North Dakota at 435. Minnesota and much of the U.S. are considered to be at high levels of community transmission. Health officials attribute the recent surge in cases in part to the waning efficacy of vaccines administered in early 2021.

Michigan pulled ahead on Tuesday with 503 cases per 100,000, though Minnesota remained second worst with 490.

The state's leading case rate has led to strained hospital capacity, with health care providers warning the flood of COVID-19 patients could affect their ability to help patients. CentraCare and Carris Health last week warned patients visiting their hospitals in the St. Cloud and Willmar area may not get treatment for conditions like heart attacks, strokes or sepsis.

Wadena County in central Minnesota had the highest transmission rate as of Tuesday. The seven-day case rate was 1,030 per 100,000 people, according to CDC data. Less than half of the county's residents have received a dose of vaccine, and 45% had completed the series.

Many rural Minnesota counties rank near the top nationally for COVID-19 case rates over the last week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. In fact, as of Tuesday, Wadena County was ranked seventh in the U.S. Mille Lacs, Itasca, Kanabec, Douglas and Sherburne counties all rank in the top 50 nationally. Most have a full vaccination rate above 50%, though Kanabec's is around 38%

Lakewood Health in Staples, Minnesota, a hospital just 30 miles west of Brainerd serving Wadena County, reports not only a greater volume of cases, but higher severity as well.

"We are seeing far more COVID-positive or COVID-suspect patients in our clinics, emergency department and hospital admissions now than in past surges," Lakewood Health said in a statement to Forum News Service. "According to our hospitalist, patients being admitted during this surge seem sicker than before, needing prolonged hospitalizations requiring additional care. Our staff are resilient but (it) has become difficult to stay positive as this has been a very long battle."


Staffed intensive care unit beds remained in short supply across all of the eastern half of Minnesota on Tuesday, according to state health department data. Regions home to cities including Duluth, Brainerd, and Rochester all had less than 5% of their ICU beds open.

Regional bed availability in Minnesota Tuesday, Nov. 16:

  • Northeast: 5 or 4.9%
  • Central: 4 or 3.7%
  • Southeast: 8 or 3.6%
  • Twin Cities: 12 or 1.9%
  • Northwest: 2 or 6.9%
  • West-central: 7 or 35%
  • Southwest: 4 or 19%
  • South-central: 4 or 17.4%

As the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases becomes worse, state health officials urge careful consideration of COVID risks in holiday plans.
The Minnesota Department of Health urged vaccinations for those who have not gotten the shot yet, avoiding crowded poorly ventilated spaces and avoiding gatherings if symptomatic. Officials also recommended wearing a well-fitting mask if not vaccinated, or if vaccinated and attending an event in a community with substantial levels of transmission.

More information on testing for COVID-19 in Minnesota can be found at: https://mn.gov/covid19/get-tested/testing-locations/index.jsp .

Following are the MDH COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Tuesday, Nov. 16. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 10,913


Hospitalizations, deaths




  • TOTAL DEATHS: 9,047


  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 3,548,912 or 68.1% of residents 5 or older

  • COMPLETED SERIES (2 doses): 3,330,128 or 63.9 of residents 5 or older

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