CDC raises COVID risk ratings in Minnesota, eases national guidance

A sign reads "Welcome. Clean your hands. Take a clean face mask."
A sign, photographed on Nov. 23, 2020, encourages people to take safety precautions as they enter the COVID-19 saliva testing site at Ridgeview Elementary School in Bloomington. The CDC recently lifted several recommended restrictions for fighting the spread of COVID.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on “minimizing the impact of COVID-19.” As widely reported, the new guidance eased recommended restrictions by lifting quarantine requirements for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 without feeling symptoms. This includes lifting the testing regime for exposed K-12 students who do not have symptoms.

At the same time, the CDC’s guidance doubled-down on recommending that individuals know their own risk, including knowing the risk in their local community as represented through their “Community Level” ratings. A map is even included in their new infographic.

As we’ll discuss below, this week’s CDC map for Minnesota shows many more counties at high risk — 22 up from nine the previous week. While the state’s largest population center, the Twin Cities metro, is still rated as low risk, much of the rest of the state is now rated as having at least medium risk. Residents of high risk counties are advised to wear masks at public settings indoors.

Increase in cases continues in southwestern Minn., slows in central and northwest

Some good news this week: after several weeks of increasing cases in the West Central and Northwest regions of the state, cases went down this week. Most of the other regions saw cases stay approximately the same. The exception to this was the Southwest region, which has now had an increase in cases for four weeks in a row. And we see similar trends in the wastewater data by region from the University of Minnesota’s Wastewater SARS-CoV2 Surveillance Study.

weekly COVID-19 cases in Minnesota regions
Most regions did not see a significant increase in cases since last week, with the exception of southwest Minnesota.
David Montgomery

Data from the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center indicates a similar 1 percent decrease in metro wastewater COVID RNA for the past week of available data (Aug. 2 – Aug. 8), and BA.5 continues to be the dominant variant, constituting 85 percent of the viral load. They are testing for BA.2.75 but have not detected it.

Hospitalizations and deaths indicate continued plateau phase

Hospitalizations remain approximately the same as past weeks. But, as former MPR News reporter David Montgomery pointed out on Twitter, data shows that non-ICU hospital bed use is on the rise. As he also pointed out, this could be due to patients staying longer in hospitals, but we don’t know that for sure.

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New ICU and non-ICU COVID hospitalizations in MN
COVID hospitalizations have stayed relatively the same for the last month.
David Montogomery
COVID hospital bed use in MN
Non-ICU COVID hospital bed use has been on the rise.
David Montgomery

Deaths in mid-July, which should be close to the final numbers now, went back up to match their earlier peak in this plateau phase. This week, the unconfirmed data shows a lower number of deaths, but we don’t know yet if that will hold.

MN COVID deaths by year
COVID deaths in mid-July were similar to their peak earlier in this plateau phase.
David Montgomery

CDC Community Level ratings place 22 Minnesota counties at high risk — not including the Twin Cities

Twenty-two counties — all outside of Twin Cities metro — are rated high risk, where guidance includes masking up indoors. Last week only nine counties were rated high risk.

Wastewater and case data suggests an increasing amount of COVID-19 has been circulating in the western part of the state. The county view shows that cases may be particularly high in Big Stone County, which has high numbers of both cases and hospitalizations.  

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