COVID-19 Friday update: Flood of omicron cases led to MN undercount

·3 min read

Jan. 21—Minnesota's ongoing, omicron-driven surge of coronavirus cases is even worse than state data shows because one in five new infections have yet to be processed by an overwhelmed state Department of Health.

"There is a lot more COVID circulating in our area than our data reflect," Kristin Sweet, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, said Friday.

To remedy that, state health officials added a new piece of pandemic data to the daily update on Friday: positive tests awaiting review. According to that measure, about 20 percent of the more than 212,000 positive tests the state has received so far this month, or 46,006 cases, still need to be processed before being added to the official tally.

After the health department is notified of a positive test result, staff must review the case to ensure it is a Minnesota resident and the positive test is not a duplicate, Sweet said. Doing so takes time, and the recent flood of infections has led to a backlog.

The delay at the Minnesota Department of Health does not impact when a person is notified of their test result, Sweet said.

The cases awaiting review number is different than the daily tally of confirmed infections. Another 11,828 new, confirmed cases were reported Friday, pushing the state's case total to 1,216,734 since March 2020.

The ongoing delays in processing new tests have made it difficult to gauge the true size of the current omicron surge. The state's belated measure of positive tests, which is delayed by a week or more to allow for data corrections, shows test positivity above 23 percent.

Minnesota also is reporting, on average, 226 new infections each day per 100,000 residents. Both of those measures are pandemic records.

Omicron is believed to cause less severe illness in many, especially the fully vaccinated, but the rates of hospitalization and death still remain high because of the sheer volume of new infections.

Another 36 fatalities also were reported Friday, bringing the death toll to 11,151. Those whose deaths were reported on Friday ranged in age from their 40s to their late 90s.

Eight resided in long-term care and 28 in private homes. About 47 percent of Minnesota's COVID-19 deaths have been residents of long-term care and roughly 82 percent have been seniors.

Hospital capacity remains tight throughout much of Minnesota. There are 1,571 patients hospitalized including 241 in intensive care.

Health officials say vaccines, as well as booster doses, are the best way to avoid severe infection and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, are also encouraged.

Minnesota has administered 9 million doses of vaccine including 1.9 million boosters. Nearly 69 percent of eligible Minnesotans, age 5 and older, have completed their initial vaccination series.

However, breakthrough infections continue to grow and now account for about 27 percent of infections since vaccination began a year ago.