COVID levels leap in Twin Cities wastewater; hospitalizations edge higher

Wastewater measurements from elsewhere in the state are a bit less scary

COVID load in Twin Cities metro wastewater

Friday’s data from the Metropolitan Council and University of Minnesota Genomic Center’s weekly wastewater analysis shows a jump in COVID-19 load after last weeks apparent leveling off.

Taken from the region’s largest plant (serving 1.8 million people) this data shows a 58 percent increase over the previous week, a level that is now “20 times higher than the recent minimum level observed March 8-14” according to the Metropolitan Council.

As of the most recent readings on May 15 and 16, the seven-day moving average is 394 million copies per person per day. This exceeds levels measured throughout the delta wave in fall of 2021, and was not reached until Dec. 24 on the upswing toward the omicron peak of 950 million copies per person per day on Jan. 10.

Wastewater measurements from elsewhere in the state are a bit less scary.

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Thursday’s new data from the University of Minnesota’s Medical School, offering finalized data through May 11 (missing some of the spikes shown in the Metropolitan Councils data in the past few days) shows continued declines in amount of COVID-19 detected in three wastewater plants in the northwest and slowing rates of increase in treatment plants located in the state’s central, Twin Cities and south-central regions.

In addition, levels are flat in south-central Minnesota.

The CDC’s official risk assessments

Some people have criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community-level risk assessments as being too conservative. That may be changing now that more counties are being classified as having high community-level risk: 19 counties, up from nine last week, and just one the week before that.

St. Louis County, home to Duluth, is among the newly classified high community-level risk counties.

The CDC recommends that those in counties rated as having high community level risk should wear masks indoors, including schools — as should those considered at-risk and living in the 29 medium community level counties, including the Twin Cities metro, as well as Stearns County, home to much of St. Cloud.

Note that the CDC’s similar-sounding Community Transmission map raises even more alarms, with all but eight of Minnesota’s 87 counties rated as having high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

Variations on the theme of omicron

The Metropolitan Council is also reporting that BA.2 made up 92 percent of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA in Metro Plant influent, including the 47 percent that is the BA.2.12.1 sub-lineage. In addition, they report that omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 together made up 7 percent of the COVID they analyzed.

Similarly, but on a broader statewide basis taken from cases (not wastewater), the Minnesota Department of Health reported earlier this week that all of the new COVID-19 cases with known variants have been cases of omicron since April 3. The sub-lineages continue to have evolved, however:

  • BA.2 is now dominant.

  • BA.2.12.1 continues to grow, with 131 cases reported as of Tuesday, up from 47 in the week prior.

  • There are now four known cases of omicron BA.4.

  • The state has identified its first known case of COVID-19 caused by omicron BA.5.

As Michael Osterholm discussed Thursday on the MPR News program Minnesota Now, these newer subvariants appear to be transmitted even more easily than earlier variants but may be somewhat less likely to result in hospitalizations and death.

New ICU and non-ICU hospitalizations in MN

The most recent data on hospitalizations comes from late last week. The seven-day average exceeded 70 admissions at that time, including seven to the intensive care unit. This is almost one-third of the high point reached in mid January, and matches the initial upswing of the Delta wave late last August.

Fortunately, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 remains relatively low. The Minnesota Department of Health reported three new deaths Friday, down from the high of 12 deaths reported last Friday.

Since deaths typically lag behind hospital admissions, it would not be surprising to see an uptick over the next week or two.

As of last Friday, the average number of hospitalizations was up by 25 percent from Friday May 6, which was up 20 percent from Friday April 29, which was up 31 percent from April 22. 

Boosters for children?

Total COVID-19 vaccinations to date by age

This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for children ages 5-11. Although the CDC has yet to provide its official marching orders on childhood boosters, that might help boost Minnesota’s booster rate, which stands at 40 percent, including 83 percent of those age 65 or older, but only 24 percent among the youngest age group that is currently eligible, 12 to 15.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, you are not alone

May is mental health awareness month, so this week’s update ends with an acknowledgement of the stress that many of us have felt during the pandemic.

The Minnesota Compass project has been tracking the results of Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which measure impacts of the COVID-19 on various aspects of American life. As of April, the survey shows:

  • Over 1 in 4 Minnesota adults indicates they have experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety more than half of days.

  • It could be even worse. Minnesota has the nation’s third lowest rate. In 15 states more than 1 in 3 adults reports feeling anxious or depressed.

If you are interested in learning more about how COVID has impacted mental health, and what resources might be available to you or your family, check out the programming available through American Public Media’s Call to Mind initiative.

Inform our reporting on COVID-19 and health

MPR News is seeking your reflections on the past several years of pandemic life. What questions and concerns are on your minds now?