The wave of COVID-19 appears to be receding as trends improve in Minn.

Several COVID-19 trends have improved in Minnesota over the past week, suggesting a spike in the latest pandemic wave before what health officials hope will be another mild summer for the state.

The number of federally designated counties in Minnesota at high risk for COVID-19 fell from 19 to 7, and statewide sampling this week found less evidence in sewage of the coronavirus which causes the infectious disease. The seven-day average of new infections in Minnesota also rose from 2,138 per day on May 11 to 1,805 on May 20 – although this is only based on publicly available tests and not home test results.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Minnesota rose slightly to 416 on Thursday, and included 35 people receiving intensive care. The state also reported nine more COVID-19 deaths on Friday — all among the elderly — bringing its pandemic toll to 12,628. However, both trends have lagged during the pandemic, and health officials hope they follow the other downturns soon.

Hospitalizations have been less severe in the latest wave – with just 8% of COVID-19 patients on Thursday requiring intensive care, compared to 30% in the early stages of the pandemic. More patients are being admitted for other purposes and only test positive on routine screening.

High levels of immunity from vaccinations or coronavirus infections this winter reduce the severity of COVID-19 this spring, said Dr. Matthew Prekker, a specialist in critical care medicine at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

“The baseline risk in the population of getting so, so sick – which existed before we had widely accepted vaccines – is much lower now,” he said. “We’re also dealing with less virulent but highly transmissible strains of COVID… Fortunately, we’re not seeing as many serious illnesses as last year.”

Sewage data was mixed last week — when the University of Minnesota showed stable or even declining virus levels in statewide sewage samples, but the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant of St. Paul showed an increase. However, the St. Paul plant on Friday reported a 38% drop in viral load in samples this week, matching the latest statewide wastewater trends.

Viral levels remained stable or slightly higher, however, in wastewater analyzed at six plants in northeastern Minnesota. This aligns with the latest regional risk data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which identified high levels of COVID-19 in Koochiching, St. Louis, Pine and Carlton counties in northeast Minnesota.

Freeborn, Olmsted and Winona counties in the south have also maintained CDC high-risk designations, meaning mask-wearing is recommended in indoor public places. CDC designations are based on infection and hospital counts and are designed to warn communities when their hospitals may be at risk of bed shortages. Most of the Twin Cities metro area remains at moderate risk for COVID-19, although Anoka and Carver counties are listed as low risk.

Minnesota’s trends match those in the northeastern United States, particularly in New York City where risk levels and case counts are declining. The latest US pandemic wave appears to be heading south – with the CDC this week identifying an increase in high-risk counties in states such as Virginia.

Levels of COVID-19 have declined in Minnesota over the past two summers, though they’ve risen in southern states, where hot temperatures are likely driving more people indoors and increasing their risks of viral transmission. .

Health officials have warned of wildcards that could disrupt expectations of a mild summer, including the even faster-spreading BA.4 and BA.5 variants that were discovered in South Africa and have been found there. caused a rapid increase in infections.

These two variants accounted for 11% of the viral load found in sewage this week at the St. Paul sewage treatment plant, up from 7% last week.

Immunity also declines over time, and Minnesota is reporting a drop in the number of residents up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations – meaning they have completed the initial series and the first booster doses when recommended. .

Only 47% of eligible Minnesotans five and older are current as of Friday, down from 49% last week. The expansion of booster recommendations last week to include children ages 5 to 11 has lowered that rate, as COVID-19 vaccination levels decline with age.

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