Mayo Clinic forecast: Delta variant surge set to accelerate in Minnesota –

According to the latest model, the COVID case rate is projected to more than double in two weeks. Here’s what that might mean.

MINNEAPOLIS — COVID-19 hospitalizations have tripled across Minnesota in the last month, and according to the Mayo Clinic, the spread of the delta variant is likely to continue to accelerate.

“The threat from the delta variant is real,” said Dr. Sean Dowdy, chief value officer and co-creator of the Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 tracker. “I would be surprised if we don’t see another surge in Rochester some time between mid-to-late August or September. The signs are pointing to that.”

There are currently more than 300 people hospitalized with more severe infections, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Currently, Minnesota COVID-19 cases have grown to 11 per 100,000 people, but the Mayo Clinic is forecasting that to double to 37 per 100,000 in the next two weeks.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to run into a crisis, but we may have a surge that approaches what we saw this winter, later in the summer,” Dr. Dowdy said. “I hope that’s not the case but we’re certainly prepared for that.”

The ability to prepare for, and adapt to, the uncertainty of the pandemic, helped the Mayo Clinic set itself apart in 2020. For the sixth straight year, US News & World Report named it the No. 1 hospital in the country.

“It’s the biggest challenge that we’ve faced as a country during my lifetime,” Dr. Dowdy said. “This really comes down to the 70,000 staff who work at Mayo Clinic.”

The clinic is asking even more of its staff this fall, announcing a vaccine requirement in late July that will go into effect in September. According to the clinic, more than 95% of physicians are vaccinated against COVID-19 across all Mayo sites. Overall staff vaccination rates range from 75 to 85 percent depending on location, but the Mayo has not instituted a mandate tied to employment status.

Dr. Dowdy: “We have instituted a program where either you get vaccinated or you’re required to complete training, to hopefully bust some myths about vaccinations.”

Kent Erdahl: “Some might say, these are people who are working in healthcare at one of the top hospitals in the country, why wouldn’t they already have that information?”

Dr. Dowdy: “They’re not immune to some of these myths about vaccination, and it’s a difficult balance between personal choice and social responsibility, and so that’s a difficult line to walk.”

Erdahl: “Could that potentially change with full FDA approval?”

Dr. Dowdy: “You know, right now, the vaccine is under an emergency use authorization. I think that’s a barrier for some people, but I think the conversation will continue to evolve over the coming months, as we see surges in other parts of the country as well.”

He says the surge already underway in Florida has tested the Mayo’s Jacksonville hospital unlike anything they saw last year.

“That’s about a 300-bed hospital,” Dr. Dowdy said. “Right now over 100 of the in patients have COVID. This happened very quickly and you can imagine the impact of that if a third of your patients have COVID. We’re starting to see this ramp up in Arizona as well.”

He says the Rochester hospital and the rest of Minnesota may fare better during the surge due to our higher vaccination rate, but he said the protection it offers is relative.

“We still have pockets throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, the rest of the United States with very low vaccination rates,” Dr. Dowdy said. “And they are going to be fuel for the fire that’s going to be coming our way.” 

And he says not everyone caught in harm’s way will be there by choice.

“I’m concerned about patients who may have been vaccinated but are immunocompromised, so they didn’t mount a response,” Dr. Dowdy said. “They could still get it from friends or families who are not vaccinated. That’s the biggest worry I have is even the people who have done everything that they can to protect themselves, may still end up very ill from this.”