With over 3,000 COVID deaths in Minnesota this year, threats remain

A kid receives Covid-19 vaccination
Andrew Richter, 4, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccination at the Mall of America on Wednesday, June 22.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News file

Now that we have reached year’s end, it is time to take stock. In terms of COVID-19 data, Minnesota ends the calendar year with: 

  • 670,000 confirmed cases. This is higher than the state’s 639,000 cases in 2021 and 428,000 in 2020 (starting with the first official case on March 5, 2020). 

  • Over 27,000 hospitalizations. This is less than the state’s 29,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations in 2021, but more than the 22,000 recorded in 2020 (starting with the state’s first COVID hospitalization on March 9, 2020). This year 12 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations were in intensive care units, down from 17 percent in 2021 and 21 percent in 2020. 

  • Although mortality data are incomplete for much of December, so far the state has recorded 3,067 lives lost to COVID-19 this year. While this is too many, it is lower than the 4,953 deaths recorded in 2021 or the 5,913 deaths recorded in 2020 (starting with the state’s first COVID-19 death on March 19, 2020).  

Much of this year’s COVID-19 activity happened early, during the height of the omicron spike. Nearly half of the state’s cases were recorded in January, as were about one quarter of COVID hospitalizations and 30 percent of COVID deaths.

Still, as noted in greater detail below, the pandemic’s impact on Minnesota remains notable. Additionally, the state is still experiencing a higher-than-normal incidence rate of both influenza and RSV. Thankfully, the prevalence of both of those illnesses appears to be waning.

According to preliminary Minnesota Department of Health data, fewer than 200 Minnesotans were hospitalized due to the flu during the week ending Dec. 23, continuing a downward trend from the over 500 flu hospitalizations in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. Similarly new RSV hospital admissions are now roughly half of the number the state was seeing in the first half of November.

Four things to know from the latest data about COVID-19 in Minnesota: 

  1. COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and deaths remain at levels seen the past several weeks.

  2. Only one in five Minnesotans is up to date on their COVID vaccinations. 

  3. COVID levels in metro wastewater continue an upward trend, and subvariant XBB is on the rise.

  4. Nearly 80 percent of Minnesotans live in medium-risk counties according to the CDC’s latest COVID community level ratings. 

Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths mostly level 

As we have reported in the past, officially-reported cases counts under-represent actual COVID-19 cases for a variety of reasons including home testing. But this has been the case for several months, giving us an imperfect but still-useful trendline to help understand what is happening with COVID in our state.

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The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting an average of 795 cases per day for the week ending Dec. 22, which is down 5 percent from the week prior. As the graph below shows, this is a very similar level of cases as reported since October. What may not be so obvious due to the scale of the graph is that today’s case levels are about double those reported in this year’s low point during March and early April. 

COVID cases in Minnesota
Officially reported COVID-19 cases are much lower than they were one year ago.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

The health department’s data also shows that an average of 75 people per day were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, including 9 people per day to intensive care units (ICU), during the week ending Dec. 22. This is 2 percent lower than the week prior.

As the graph shows, COVID-19 hospitalizations have bounced around a bit more than reported case rates but are currently well below what we saw at the end of 2020 and 2021. Still, the number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations we are seeing today remains well above the low point for the year: In late March the state was averaging only 23 COVID hospital admissions per day.

COVID Hospitalizations in MN
In the week ending Dec. 22, an average of nine people with COVID-19 per day were admitted to intensive care units and another 66 were admitted to non-ICU hospital beds.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

As usual, mortality data lags other data reported by the Department of Health. For the week ending Dec. 8, an average of 8 Minnesotans per day lost their life to COVID-19.

The rolling seven-day average of daily deaths has generally fluctuated between five and 10 deaths for the past several months, representing far more loss of life than if the averages had stayed below three per day, as we saw during this year’s low point in April and into early May. 

COVID deaths in Minnesota
In the week ending Dec. 8, an average of eight Minnesotans with COVID-19 died each day.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

Only one in five Minnesotans up to date on their COVID vaccinations

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 22 percent of Minnesotans are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine doses, including any boosters for which they are eligible.  

Vaccination rates vary dramatically by age, with less than 5 percent of those under age five fully up to date, compared with over 58 percent of Minnesotans age 65 or older. 

COVID vaccination rates in MN by age
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 22 percent of Minnesotans are up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, with the rates varying considerably by age.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

COVID levels in Metro wastewater continue an upward trend, and subvariant XBB is on the rise

The most recent wastewater analysis in the state, from the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center, shows a two percent decrease in viral load entering the Twin Cities Metro Plant for the week ending Dec. 26 as compared with the previous week.  

As shown in the graph below, COVID levels measured at the Metro wastewater plant have been trending upward since mid-November, and are nearly identical to levels measured in late 2020 — but well below the dramatic spike last year at this time. 

COVID Levels in Metro wastewater
COVID levels measured in wastewater at the Metro Plant have generally increased in recent weeks.
David H. Montgomery | MPR News

The Metropolitan Council also reports that COVID-19’s BA.2 subvariants, including XBB, are on the rise. This is notable because XBB has become dominant in several northeastern U.S. states that are now seeing a rise in reported COVID cases. In the CDC’s Region 2 (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), where cases are up 42 percent since Mid-November, XBB has grown to now make up 72 percent of cases according to the CDC’s latest estimates

The latest data out of the University of Minnesota’s Wastewater SARS-CoV2 Surveillance Study, again shows mixed signals for through the week ending Dec. 11. COVID levels are up for all regions over the prior month, especially in the study’s North West and South Central regions. In the most recent week, however, levels had dropped in the North West, Central and South East regions.

Four in five Minnesotans live in counties with medium COVID-19 risk 

The good news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Community Level” ratings this week is that zero counties are at high risk. Still, 38 counties, where 79 percent of the state’s residents live, were assigned medium risk ratings, indicating people should retain some level of vigilance—especially for those who may be immunocompromised.

Note: For more details and complementary maps showing county-level COVID case and hospitalization rates, click on this sentence to get to the COVID in Minnesota key data page.