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Minnesota’s COVID hospital admissions lowest since May

Deaths rise after holidays, state ranks medium-well on COVID vaccinations

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A M Health Fairview nurse gives a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination at Brian Coyle Center in M Health Fairview in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel / MPR News
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ST. PAUL — Hospitals are still operating at or near capacity throughout Minnesota, but pressures from COVID-19, as well as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have decreased.

Weekly flu hospitalizations peaked at just under 600 in early December and are now fewer than 100. RSV hospitalizations peaked at just under 200 in mid-November and are now sitting at around 40.

While the flu and RSV burdened hospitals in fall and early winter, COVID hospitalizations remained a significant contributor. There were only two weeks where more people were hospitalized with the flu than COVID in late 2022.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID started to drop in early January, and admissions have dropped off even more in recent days. Read on for details on the most recent COVID hospitalization trends, as well as other data points from across the state and an update on Minnesota’s COVID-19 vaccination rates compared to other states.

COVID hospitalizations lowest since May, but deaths rise after holidays

Reported COVID-19 cases are down in almost every region of Minnesota. The exception is west central Minnesota, where cases (barely) rose in the past week of data.

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Non-intensive care unit hospitalizations fell dramatically in the most recent data; admission rates are lower than they have been since last spring. ICU hospitalizations went down slightly this week, but they remain in the same range as the past couple months.

COVID deaths in Minnesota gradually fell to around five deaths per day in late December after averaging around eight deaths per day in late fall. Mortality data is still coming in for early January, but the daily average has again gone up to an average of eight deaths and could rise further as data is finalized.

Wastewater: No alarm bells or free-and-clear signals

The most recent wastewater report from the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center notes: “The total viral RNA load entering the Metro Plant increased by 37 percent last week compared to a week earlier. This increase was strongly influenced by one particularly high load value observed on Thursday, Jan. 12. Excluding that one high load value, the weekly average load increase was five percent, week-over-week.”

In terms of subvariants, the Metropolitan Council reports that “XBB [including its subvariant XBB.1.5] made up 46 percent of the viral RNA entering Metro [Plant] last week, an increase over the previous week’s level of 27 percent.”

XBB.1.5 has made headlines as the dominant variant in the northeast U.S. but, despite its rapid ascent in Metro wastewater, it is not making a strong showing in actual COVID cases in the state — likely due in part to the lagging nature of the sequencing of actual COVID cases.

The Minnesota Department of Health noted Friday, Jan. 20, via email that during the second half of December, XBB made up only 7% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in Minnesota. While that is an increase from previous reports, so far, it is only a modest increase.

The latest data out of the University of Minnesota’s Wastewater SARS-CoV2 Surveillance Study again shows competing signals for the week ending Jan. 8. In combination with other data in today’s roundup, the region-by-region wastewater data neither raises alarm bells nor signals that the state is in the free and clear.

Most hopefully, testing from wastewater plants in the study’s Central and South Central regions shows decreasing COVID levels over both the past four weeks and the past week. On the other hand, the most recent readings from the six treatment plants included in the study’s North East region are showing both monthly and weekly increases. And the two plants in the study’s South West region indicate that levels are much higher than a month ago, even though there was a slight decline in the most recent week.

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Other regions are showing mixed signals over the four- and one-week time frames that generally net out to fairly stable overall covid levels. This is especially so in the study’s largest region, the Twin Cities metro, which includes measurements from 13 plants collectively serving 2.8 million people. (Note that data from this study lags the Metropolitan Council data by one week, and that the Metropolitan Council only includes one wastewater treatment plant — albeit the state’s largest, serving 1.8 million.)

CDC paints the state green

The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Community Level” COVID-19 assessments put nearly all of Minnesota in a low-risk category, mapped as green. Rice County, home to Faribault and Northfield, pops out as the only yellow county on this week’s map, signaling medium risk. While not quite as green as the entirely low-risk rated states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah or Washington, this week’s map conveys less COVID-19 risk in Minnesota than we have seen for several months.

While the CDC’s Community Level map shows little COVID-19 risk in Minnesota this week, it is important to note that in terms of case rates, 42 of the state’s counties meet the CDC’s definition of “substantial” transmission (weekly case rates of 50-99.9 per 100,000), and four counties — Carlton, Lac qui Parle, Lake of the Woods and Mahnomen — meet the definition of high transmission (weekly case rates of 100 or more cases per 100,000).

Minnesota ranks medium-well on COVID vaccinations

This week, APM Research Lab completed our monthly “Inoculation Nation” check-in on COVID-19 vaccination progress. Minnesota continues to rank in the middle of all states, 19th, in terms of the proportion of the population that meets the CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” (one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines).

Minnesota has been more successful than other states in getting those who are fully vaccinated to follow up with booster shots, resulting in a seventh-place ranking in overall percentage of the population that has received a booster shot. Still, more than half of the state’s population has yet to take advantage of COVID-19 booster shots.

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