The deaths of 12 more north-central Minnesota residents, including a Cass County resident in their early 40s, joined the growing tally of those who’ve lost their lives due to complications associated with COVID-19.

Reported this week were the deaths of four Crow Wing County residents, two ages 70-74 and two ages 85-89; three Cass County residents, ages 40-44, 70-74 and 80-84; two Morrison County residents, ages 60-64 and 80-84; two Mille Lacs County residents, ages 75-79 and 85-89; and an Aitkin County resident, age 65-69.

Meanwhile, reports of new cases of the disease continued to trend downward this week in both the seven-county region and the state as a whole, appearing to signal Minnesota is on the backside of its most recent coronavirus surge. Crow Wing County recorded 263 new cases between Oct. 16 and Friday, Oct. 22. This is the lowest figure in more than a month, but still one of the highest single-week totals in 2021.

Hospitalizations — typically a lagging indicator — remain elevated. A total of 12 more Crow Wing County residents were hospitalized this week. The intensive care unit at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd continues to operate in an expanded capacity and COVID-19 patients account for 1 in every 5 patients admitted to Crosby’s Cuyuna Regional Medical Center this week. Wadena-based Tri-County Health Care also reported stress to its system in a Friday release from President and CEO Joel Beiswenger.

An Essentia Health spokesperson said Friday the Brainerd hospital had 11 ICU patients, eight of whom were COVID-positive. Of the COVID-19 patients, six were unvaccinated, with one being fully vaccinated and another partially vaccinated. The 10-bed ICU in Brainerd was expanded to a nearby unit last week to accommodate the influx of patients requiring critical care.

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At CRMC in Crosby, the hospital admitted 38 patients overall since Oct. 15, with eight of those being COVID-19 patients, according to a spokesperson. Six of the eight COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

In a note to the community, Beiswenger reported Tri-County Health Care recently experienced a test positivity rate over 25% — five times the level public health officials find concerning. The prevalence of COVID-19 in the Wadena and surrounding communities remains extremely high, Beiswenger said, at a rate of about 180 cases per 10,000 residents.

“The trend continues to climb and although we had hoped the peak was near, that is not the case. We are not seeing the pause of relief like many other hospitals around the nation,” Beiswenger wrote. “ … In many cases, patients who would typically be transferred to larger regional hospitals or metro hospitals, are being kept at smaller facilities like Tri-County Health Care because there are simply not enough beds. This is leading to delays in care, long periods of discomfort and stress for patients. It’s also resulting in an extreme amount of frustration and fatigue for our staff.”

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.