COVID-19 levels predictably rose in Minnesota after Thanksgiving, keeping pressure on crowded hospitals that also are dealing with influenza and other seasonal maladies.
Inpatient cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals increased from a recent low of 373 on Oct. 15 to 633 on Dec. 7, though the numbers have tapered since then. The rate of coronavirus infections identified at Minnesota clinics and testing centers increased above 900 per day on Dec. 2, according to Thursday’s weekly state pandemic update.
Still, COVID-19 levels are far below what Minnesota encountered last year at this time. Hospitalizations peaked at 1,680 last December, when a delta variant of the coronavirus caused severe illnesses and then gave way to an even-faster-spreading omicron variant.
The increases nonetheless underscore warnings by state health leaders earlier this week to take precautions against viral infections that could further clog the state’s hospitals. State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said people are tired after nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic but should take steps such as recommended vaccinations to protect themselves and others around them who are vulnerable to infection.
“Fatigue is understandable,” she said Tuesday, “but its also dangerous.”
Risks remain highest among the elderly, who accounted for 72 of 77 COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota since Thanksgiving. The state’s COVID-19 death toll is now 13,834.
Seniors also are a high-risk group for influenza — with the median age of the state’s 2,306 flu-related hospitalizations being 62, according to the state’s weekly flu report.
The flu season emerged early in Minnesota but is showing signs of at least a temporary peak. The preliminary total of 382 flu-related hospitalizations in the week ending Dec. 10 was well below the nearly 600 admissions in each of the previous two weeks.
Health officials warned of the potential for further surges, especially after the holidays. Flu-like outbreaks have declined in K-12 schools, but have now been reported in 39 long-term care facilities — indicating that influenza has gradually reached a less mobile but more vulnerable population.
Even RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is targeting older people of late. Hospitalizations related to the virus have declined from nearly 200 per week last month to fewer than 100 in the week ending Dec. 10. Infants usually make up the majority of RSV-related hospitalizations, but last week nearly half of them involved people 2 and older and a third involved adults.
COVID-19 infection numbers are only a glimpse at pandemic spread, because they exclude the results of at-home tests. Coronavirus levels increased in wastewater in five of six Minnesota regions as of Dec. 7, though, and those results aren’t affected by the number of tests performed.
Sewage sampling at 13 plants around the Twin Cities increased 40% since Nov. 20, bringing the metro area back to levels seen in August, according to monitoring data published by the University of Minnesota.
Jeremy Olson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering health care for the Star Tribune. Trained in investigative and computer-assisted reporting, Olson has covered politics, social services, and family issues.
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