By WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota health officials reported Tuesday nearly 6,000 more cases of COVID-19 in the state and 26 more deaths. Meanwhile, more than 1,600 people are hospitalized with the virus, the highest number yet since the pandemic began.

According to Minnesota Department of Health data, the 5,945 new infections tallied bring the state’s total number of cases to nearly 237,000. The additional fatalities bring the state’s death toll nearer to 3,000. If current COVID fatality trends continue, the grim benchmark will be reached later this week.

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a surge of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, with daily case records broken every few days. In just the last week, four days have seen daily new case numbers over 7,000. So dramatic has the increase in cases been that health officials are now urging Minnesotans to limit Thanksgiving celebrations to their own households.

“As tempting as it is to just stick with our cherished traditions, this year we really need people to reconsider,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.

RELATED: Health Officials Beg Minnesota Families To ‘Reconsider’ Thanksgiving To Halt COVID Spread

With the rising number of infections, more people are entering Minnesota hospitals. As of Monday, 1,669 people were hospitalized with the virus, with 346 in intensive care. At no point during the pandemic have hospitalizations been higher.

In the last week, ICU cases related to COVID have climbed nearly 25%. Just a few days ago, intensive care COVID cases were below 300. As of Monday, more than 75% of all ICU beds in Minnesota were full.

While hospitals are now better able to treat COVID than at the start of the outbreak, there’s rising concern that the health care system will be overwhelmed if the virus continues to spread unabated. Health officials are urging the public to wear masks, practice social distancing and get tested if feeling sick or exposed to the virus.

In order to curb the virus’ spread, Gov. Tim Walz implemented new restrictions for bars and restaurants, ordering them to close by 10 p.m. Additionally, social gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors, must now be limited to 10 people. The new rules went into effect over the weekend.

A key tool in the state’s effort to fight and track the virus is testing. In the last 24 hours, more than 30,000 tests were processed for Minnesotans. Over the weekend, the state hit a testing capacity record, with over 60,000 tests processed in a single day.

In recent weeks, the state has opened several free testing sites in cities across Minnesota. Eleven more such sites are set to open this week, mainly in Minnesota National Guard armories. Also, anyone in Minnesota can now request a free mail-in test. No symptoms or insurance are needed.

RELATED: Request A Free Mail-In Test

According to the state’s Dial Back Dashboard, Minnesota’s positivity rate is at 14.9% as of Nov. 11. Also, the state now averages over 100 daily new COVID cases per 100,000 residents.

Since the start of the outbreak, 236,949 people in Minnesota have tested positive for the virus. Of those, more than 186,000 have recovered and no longer need to self-isolate.

The state’s COVID-19 death toll is currently at 2,943. Most of the deaths have been residents in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Of the most recent fatalities reported, 12 of the victims were in long-term care facilities.

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