Little change in most COVID indicators, but deaths rise slightly to highest level since March

This week’s COVID-19 data is mostly positive insofar as it shows relatively little change from the last few weeks, especially when it comes to cases and hospitalizations, and still no signs of a fall surge.  

The situation is never that simple, however. Deaths have increased slightly in Minnesota this week after holding steady. And, while the CDC’s “Community Level” map is very green with no counties rated high risk, the number of counties that exceed the CDC’s threshold for high COVID-19 transmission has increased significantly from last week’s low-point.

Although hospitalizations for COVID-19 have remained steady, hospitalizations for RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, continue to increase across the state and the country. The rise in RSV has healthcare professionals and public health experts wary about the possible strain this could place on the healthcare system if it coincides with a bad flu season and a still-possible COVID-19 surge. In other words, continue to exercise caution and wash your hands.

Cases and hospitalizations relatively unchanged, but deaths increase  

Official case counts around the state stayed relatively stable over the past week of data.  

Weekly COVID-19 cases in Minnesota regions
Case rates were fairly unchanged in the most recent week of data.
David Montgomery

Intensive care unit (ICU) admissions remain around the level they were last week. Non-ICU admissions fell further after last week’s update before ticking up on the last day of data. So, overall, hospital admissions have not changed in the last week.  

Recent COVID hospitalizations in MN
COVID hospitalizations remain about the same as last week.
David Montgomery

The relatively stable level of hospitalizations stands in stark contrast to the rapidly increasing rates of hospitalization seen around this time in the last two years. A winter COVID wave is still certainly possible, but so far, it’s been more of the same ripple we’ve seen since May. 

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COVID hospitalizations in MN since March 2020
So far, COVID hospitalizations have not increased this fall in the way they have the last couple of years.
David Montgomery

But despite this milder COVID phase of late, deaths have nonetheless averaged around six per day since late May. And, in late October, the 7-day average mortality topped eight deaths per day – the first time that deaths have been that high since mid-March.  

This increase in deaths came about 10 days after the jump in ICU admissions earlier in October. Given that hospitalizations have dropped since then, we can hope that deaths will follow suit soon as well. Of the 356 COVID deaths reported in Minnesota since early September, all but two have been persons over 50 years old, underscoring the continued higher risk for older populations. 

Minnesota COVID-19 deaths by year
Even without the data being finalized, deaths increased in the last couple of weeks.
David Montgomery

Wastewater: increases in the Metro and central and southern Minnesota, decrease in northeastern corner of the state 

The most recent wastewater analysis in the state, from the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center, shows an 11 percent increase in viral load entering the Twin Cities Metro Plant for the week ending Nov. 7 as compared with the previous week. According to the Metropolitan Council, “the weekly average load over the past four weeks (Oct. 11 to Nov. 7) is 15 percent higher than that over the previous four weeks (Sept. 13 to Oct. 10).”   

COVID load in Twin Cities metro wastewater
COVID load in Twin Cities wastewater went up slightly since last week.
David Montgomery

In terms of COVID variants, the Metropolitan Council reports that BA.5 makes up 92 percent of viral RNA. However, they add that “targeted mutation analyses indicate that new, fast-growing Omicron BA.5 subvariants are replacing earlier BA.5 lineages.”  

The latest data out of the University of Minnesota’s Wastewater SARS-CoV2 Surveillance Study, tracking data from seven regions through Oct. 30, shows a general increase in COVID-19 levels across the southern and central parts of the state over both the prior month and week. Several regions did experience decreases, but the North East is the only region to experience both a monthly and weekly decrease in COVID-19 wastewater levels. The South East saw a modest decrease over the prior month of 16 percent, but it saw an increase of 19 percent over the prior week. This trend was reversed in the North West region, which saw a 39 percent monthly increase but a recent 12 percent weekly decrease. 

Data for the week ending on Oct. 30, shows a large monthly increase of 146 percent in the South West region of the state, which continues the large increases in that region that we reported in last week’s update. However, the South West only experienced a two percent weekly increase, which suggests that COVID-19 wastewater levels in the region may have reached a new plateau. The Central and South Central regions also saw relatively larger increases: the former experienced a monthly increase of 34 percent and a weekly increase of 75 percent, while the latter experienced a monthly increase of 56 percent and a more modest weekly increase of 15 percent. The COVID-19 levels of wastewater in the Twin Cities Metro (the study’s largest region, including 13 plants serving 2.8 million Minnesotans) remains relatively steady, but still with minor increases.  

Minnesota is back to zero counties rated as high risk according to the CDC’s latest “Community Level” ratings. The number of counties rated as medium risk also fell, from 29 last week to 11 this week. The medium risk counties are spread throughout the state, but with slightly more in southwestern Minnesota, which also reflects the increasing trend in COVID in wastewater in that region. Hospital admissions are also highest southwest Minnesota.  

COVID-19 transmission, however, is up this week across the state, according to CDC. Thirty-three counties exceed the threshold for high COVID-19 transmission of at least 100 cases per 100,000, up from 13 counties last week. Lake, Norman and Grant counties had 200 or more cases per 100,000 in the latest update, and Big Stone County registered more than 500 cases per 100,000.