By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – As the Christmas holiday approaches and Minnesotans scramble to get tested before gathering with family, the state health department recorded 3,378 new COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths.

Of the reported deaths, four people were under 50 years of age, including a person in their late 20s from Anoka County.

The update from the Minnesota Department of Health shows the seven-day average positivity rate at 8.8% as of Dec. 12 (due to data lag). The figure is down from the 11.5% reported last month and has dipped into the “caution” zone. Daily new hospitalizations and new cases per 100,000 residents have also declined in the past few days.

Still, the state is preparing for a jump in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, which is now the most dominant strain in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday emphasized free testing at sites across the state, and the health department encourages getting tested before gathering for the holidays.

MORE: Find Free COVID-19 Testing Sites

Preliminary studies from the United Kingdom and South Africa suggest that people infected with Omicron have a lower risk of severe illness and hospitalization than those infected with Delta. The studies show that those diagnosed with Omicron were 80% less likely to be hospitalized than those with other variants, but once in the hospital, the South African study found patients were just as likely to develop severe disease no matter which variant they were diagnosed with.

Scientists still warn that as people become ill with the highly-transmissible variant, hospital systems could become even more strained.

RELATED: Omicron Surge Has Businesses, Churches Making Changes To Stay COVID Safe

In Minnesota, there were 342 people in ICU beds with COVID-19 on Wednesday afternoon, and 1,073 in non-ICU beds. In all the regions across the state, there are less than 10 staffed ICU beds available for adults, with most regions only having one or two available.

So far, Minnesota has administered over 8.5 million vaccine doses, including over 1.6 million booster shots. Sixty-seven percent of the state’s population has at least one vaccine dose, and of those 5 and older, 71.6% have received their first shot.