(FOX 9) - Minnesota health officials are sounding the alarm, saying a deadly mix of the delta variant and low vaccination rates in rural Minnesota is causing a surge in COVID-19 cases out-state.
Now they’re stressing the importance of vaccination, testing when appropriate, and responsible mask wearing.
"We are raining COVID right now, we are at very high levels and continue to increase," Minnesota Department of Health assistant commissioner Dan Huff told FOX 9 on Wednesday.
But after a flood of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and death in the 7-county metro area; state health officials say now the storm is unleashing on a new target.
"We passed that point now where greater Minnesota has more than 50% of the hospitalized cases," Dr. George Morris said.
St. Cloud’s CentraCare hospital serves as the premier caretaker for twenty of those Minnesota counties and Dr. George Morris works as the COVID-19 response physician incident responder.
"It’s higher than it was anytime during 2021 but it’s not quite as bad as it was November [or] December," Dr. Morris said.
"It’s definitely eclipsed what we saw in the spring," Huff added. "It is not as high as what we saw last fall."
"We are overwhelmed," Dr. Morris continued. "Our staff are overwhelmed, they’re having to work extra hours long shifts. We’re having to delay some elective surgical cases."
Even more overwhelming, the Minnesota Department of Health says this surge has yet to reach its peak.
"Currently in Minnesota, there are about 865 inpatients with COVID," Dr. Morris said. "Greater Minnesota has about 450 of those."
Health officials say the virus is now focusing on greater Minnesota because vaccination rates there have lagged behind the Twin Cities area, in some places by as much as 20%.
"We have over 22 ICU patients right now, and of those 14 of them are on ventilators, so just to kind of show how serious this is," Dr. Morris said. "And for hospitalized patients, over 80% of them are unvaccinated."
Now health officials believe this is the way the pandemic will look for the foreseeable future.
"It could be another month, it could be six weeks as we look at the previous waves we’ve gone through," Dr. Morris said.
As a result, the state plans to expand its testing capacity, in particular, to meet increased demand in Mankato, Moorhead, Winona, and St. Cloud.