Health data roundup: COVID-19 continues to inch upward, deaths by suicide on the rise

September is suicide prevention month

As Minnesotans make it through yet another period of poor air quality and another excessive heat warning, the focus of this edition of our biweekly health data roundup returns to COVID-19. And since we are rapidly approaching Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, we also look at troubling new data concerning the increase of death by suicide on the national and state level.

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts about suicide, please take advantage of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (text or call 988 or visit them online to chat). 

Again this week the number of hospital admissions with COVID-19 increased. There were 101 such admissions (an average of 14.4 per day) in the week ending Aug. 10, up from a low of 34 (or daily average of 4.9) during the week ending July 6.  

Looking at the monthly data, daily average COVID-19 hospital admissions had dropped for six consecutive months, January. to July, before ticking up in June and now again in the first 10 days of reported data for August.

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Note, however, that even with this recent increase, hospitalizations remain low. The daily average of 14 COVID-19 hospital admissions so far in August is lower than any month since March 2020, except for June and July of this year. Minnesota’s average daily COVID-19 hospital admissions for all of 2021 was 81, followed by 76 in 2022. 

Additionally, although Minnesota’s recent increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations mirror national increases, the overall rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations is much lower in Minnesota than nationally. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that the national rate of COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week ending Aug. 5 is 3.1 people per 100,000, compared to a rate of 1.35 here in Minnesota. (Currently rates are highest in Hawaii, 9.5, and Florida, 7.8.) 

Unlike the latest hospitalization data, the latest wastewater data from around the state shows no clear patterns. Last week’s update put the South East region on the watch list, but COVID-19 levels in that region are falling in the week ending Aug. 2 — as is the case for all but the South Central region in the University of Minnesota’s on-going Wastewater SARS-CoV2 Surveillance Study.  

More recent data from the Metropolitan Council and University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center’s monitoring of the state’s single largest wastewater treatment plant, the Metro Plant which serves 1.8 million Minnesotans, shows COVID-19 levels inching up again in the week ending August 13 (technically down by 4 percent, but up 20 percent when using a daily average that excludes the one abnormally high reading last week).

Although still low, levels are now similar to measurements taken in April after bottoming out in June and July. 

Up until very recently, increases in COVID-19 activity have mainly been reported alongside observations of the increasing dominance of the new EG.5 subvariant, sometimes called “Eris.”

The CDC’s latest variant modeling, however, shows that a new lineage, FL 1.5.1 is on the rise, accounting for 13 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and nearly one-quarter of all cases, outpacing EG.5, in the CDC’s region 2 (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands).  

The CDC’s Now Cast modeling is currently not available for Region 5, which includes Minnesota, and FL 1.5.1 barely registers on the Region 5 data dating back to July 22. FL 1.5.1 and it has yet to show up on variant reports issued by either the Minnesota Department of Health or the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota Genomic Center.  

While this new “FLip” combo mutation bears watching, a statement offered yesterday by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control offers some perspective:  

Based on what is observed in countries outside the EU/EEA, it is likely that F456L variants [including FL 1.5.1] will contribute to increased transmission in the coming weeks. However, it is unlikely that the resultant levels of severe disease will reach those of similar peaks previously observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also unlikely that F456L variants are associated with any increase in infection severity compared to the previously circulating variants, or reduction in vaccine effectiveness against severe disease.

On that last note, the Minnesota Department of Health is again reporting that 27.4 percent of Minnesotans are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines. Specific information about the roll-out of the new COVID-19 booster has been hard to come by, but according to Politico, CDC spokesperson Kathleen Conley recently stated the updated vaccine rollout is set to begin the third or fourth week of September.

Suicide rates are increasing in the state and nationally 

Deaths by suicide increased in the U.S. by 2.6 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to provisional data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This continues an upward trend in the age-adjusted suicide rate, which has risen since 2020 after declining slightly over the prior two years. 

Adjusting for age is a common and important tool health researchers use to allow for better direct comparisons between and across groups when health impacts vary considerably by age.

Minnesota’s age-adjusted suicide rate for 2022, according to provisional data, increased by 2.9 percent, slightly higher than the national average. In general, the suicide rate has been close to the national average and followed a similar increasing trend over the last two decades; Minnesota, however, saw its highest rate of 14.4 deaths by suicide per 100,000 residents in 2019.  

Although Minnesota rates have not been far from the national average, the rate of deaths by suicide has increased more steeply in the state between 2001 and 2021 compared to the nation, 45 percent compared to 32 percent, respectively.  

Even with this greater increase in suicide rates compared to the national average, Minnesota’s age-adjusted rate of deaths by suicide in 2021, 13.9 deaths per 100,000 people, was still in the bottom one-third of states. Fourteen states had rates of 20 or more deaths per 100,000 people and three of those states — Wyoming, Montana and Alaska — had rates of 30 or more deaths.

In spite of the general increase nationally in deaths by suicide, the CDC reported some positive results from the provisional data.

Suicide deaths among Indigenous Americans appear to have declined by 6.1 percent from 2021 to 2022, although this group still has the highest rate of suicide, 28.1 deaths per 100,000, when comparing across race and ethnicity. And suicide deaths among 10- to 24-year-olds decreased by 8.4 percent between 2021 and 2022.  

Indigenous Minnesotans had the highest suicide rate among the state’s major racial or ethnic groups in 2021 at 40.1 deaths per 100,000 after adjusting for age.

Although the data is provisional, it appears this dropped in 2022 to 25.2 deaths by suicide among Indigenous Minnesotans after age-adjustment, a notable 37 percent decrease from the previous year.   

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, suicide rates exceeded 20 per 100,000 for those age 25 to 39, 50 to 59 and 85 or older in at least one of the past two years. Rates were relatively lower, less than 15 per 100,000, among Minnesotans between the ages of 65 and 84.

Nationally, deaths by suicide among middle-aged Americans and Americans 65 or older increased notably from 2021 to 2022, by 6.6 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively.   

Finally, men account for the vast number of suicide deaths both nationally and in the state of Minnesota, but in Minnesota, the age-adjusted suicide rate among women increased by 17.5 percent from 2021 to 2022, compared to a roughly one percentage point decrease among men.  

If you need suicide or mental health crisis support, or are worried about someone else, please call or text 988 or visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline chat to connect with a trained crisis specialist.