By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The metrics used to track COVID-19 in Minnesota are reaching some of the highest levels seen so far this year. Meanwhile, health officials on Wednesday announced 5,277 new cases and reported 43 more deaths.

The latest new case figures likely contain some cases from over the weekend, when the surge of new reports exceeded the state’s intake processing capacity. On Tuesday, health officials said the backlog in weekend cases would bring increased case totals throughout the next few days. On Tuesday, this resulted in more than 7,000 cases being added to the state’s tally.

READ MORE: St. Paul Schools To Extend Winter Break Due To Ongoing COVID Strain

Since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago, Minnesota has logged 831,669 cases and 8,925 deaths. Of the newly reported deaths Wednesday, two of them were Twin Cities residents in their late 40s. The bulk of the newly reported deaths (37) happened this month.

In Minnesota hospitals, 1,159 patients were being treated for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, marking the highest levels seen since last year. Of those currently hospitalized, 257 require intensive care beds, also a record for the year. Meanwhile, 96% of the state’s ICU beds are in use, and the state’s hospitalization rate is creeping toward levels not seen since last year.

The latest data shows that Minnesota’s average seven-day positivity rate is at 9.3%, the highest it’s been so far this year. The spike is nearing the “high risk” threshold, which health officials mark at 10%. The last time the state’s positivity rate was in high risk territory was during the surge in cases last November.

Average daily case growth is also nearing a record high for the year. As of last week, the seven-day average stood at 52.7 new cases per 100,000 residents. That’s just below a peak reached but a month earlier, when the average daily case growth was at 53.9 new cases per 100,000 residents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota has the ninth worst seven-day case rate in the nation.

“Truly alarming spike in cases”

During a briefing for reporters, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm called the new case and death numbers “extraordinarily high and concerning” and that a “truly alarming spike in cases” has happened in recent days. Malcolm said the recent spike in cases is likely due to a combination of factors, including the contagious nature of the Delta variant, waning immunity as people get further out from their first vaccine doses, and Minnesotans relaxing their mitigation strategies, such as masking.

“Every day now we’re seeing dozens of Minnesotans dying from an illness that they didn’t have to get, and that is beyond heartbreaking for all of us doing this work.” Malcolm said. “The tragedy of this current spike in cases is that more than ever we have the tools and the knowledge to minimize the impact of this virus.”

READ MORE: COVID In Minnesota: Positivity Rate On A Downward Trend, But Still Above 10%

State health leaders are still urging Minnesotans to get vaccinated, as the most severe cases are among people who are unvaccinated. So far, 67% of Minnesotans eligible for the vaccine, which now includes those ages 5 and older, have gotten at least one dose.

Nearly 600,000 people have also taken a booster dose. On Tuesday, the drug-maker Pfizer asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize booster doses of its vaccine for all adults. Currently, boosters are only available to seniors and adults with certain high-risk conditions.

Since the state’s vaccine push began late last year, more than 7.1 million vaccine doses have been administered in Minnesota.

Stay Safe During The Holiday Break

As Minnesotans finalize their Thanksgiving plans, health officials encourage them to take advantage of testing options and use known mitigation strategies, such as wearing a mask regardless of vaccination status.

“This spike is bad, it’s scary,” Malcolm said. “But it would be so much worse…if it weren’t for the fact that most Minnesotans now do have the protection of the vaccine.”

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

MORE NEWS: COVID Took His Wife And Left Him Hospitalized, Now He's Urging Others To Get Vaccinated