In our previous update we reported “hopeful downticks” in Minnesota’s hospitalization rates for COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), cautioning that “just one new week’s worth of data does not indicate a clear trend.” With two additional weeks of data from the state’s department of health, we can now safely report the hopeful downticks have become even more hopeful trends.
This week’s caveat is that the department’s preliminary influenza data for the week ending Jan. 28 (not shown on graph) shows an upward bump from 3.6 hospital admissions per 100,00 to 4.9. While the preliminary data for both COVID-19 and RSV currently shows a continued decline, we will have to wait until next week to see whether the downward trend in influenza hospitalizations is truly indicating that we are past this season’s peak flu activity.
Further evidence of declining COVID-19 activity in Minnesota: Wastewater data
Wastewater data, a leading indicator, also continues to show declines in COVID-19 activity in most parts of the state. Comparing the latest statewide measurements from the University of Minnesota’s on-going Wastewater Surveillance Study to four weeks ago, COVID-19 levels detected in wastewater have declined by 40 percent.
This statewide average includes even larger declines in five of the study’s seven regions, and an increase in only the North East region. The 47 percent increase in that region, driven by upticks in the region’s Duluth and Mora plants, bears watching but has not yet been matched by increases in COVID-related hospitalizations in that area of the state.
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These declines appear to have leveled off a bit, with COVID-19 levels in wastewater declining by only 2 percent over the most recent week.
COVID-19 still a leading cause of death
It is also important to note that even though COVID-19 trends are declining, it does not mean that we should let down all guards. As University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm pointed out on Thursday, “… as of last week in this country, COVID was still the number seven killer.”
Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s provisional mortality statistics confirm this assertion. The CDC’s somewhat more complete but still provisional 2023 mortality data lists COVID-19 as the nation’s 10th highest cause of death. That same provisional data shows that COVID-19 was Minnesota’s ninth highest cause of death last year.
In Minnesota and the U.S. as a whole, COVID-19 was the third-highest cause of death in both 2020 and 2021. It ranked fourth nationally in 2022 and sixth in Minnesota, according to the CDC’s provisional data.
COVID-19 deaths continue to be far more common among older adults. The department of health’s data for the week ending Jan. 13 show that the COVID-19 death rate for Minnesotans age 85 or older was 19.8 per 100,000, compared to 8.7 among those age 75 to 84, 1.6 for those age 65 to 74 and 0.2 among those age 50 to 64. That week there were no identified COVID-19 deaths among Minnesotans age 0 to 49.