Cannabis, sneezes and a welcome decline in respiratory diseases

COVID-19 vaccination rate slowly creeping up, as is COVID-19’s presence in state’s wastewater

Strains of recreational cannabis in jars with labels
A display case of marijuana strains available for purchase on Aug. 3, the first day of recreational marijuana sales at the tribal dispensary in Mahnomen on the White Earth Nation.
Mathew Holding Eagle III | MPR News

Saturday, April 20, or 4/20, is known to many as a day for celebrating cannabis and its consumption. It is also the first 4/20 since recreational cannabis use was legalized in Minnesota, going into effect last August. With this in mind, we looked at recently published research into cannabis use in Minnesota.  

According to a study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health published this past January, pre-legalization cannabis use among Minnesotans is relatively on par with the national average. The study uses 2018-2019 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the latest state-level data available, and found:  

  • Among Minnesotans age 12 and older, roughly half reported using cannabis once in their life.  

  • Only 10 percent reported recent use within the past 30 days, only slightly lower than the nationwide rate of 10.8 percent.  

  • Minnesotan’s reported cannabis dependence rate is virtually identical to the national average, 1.8 percent compared to 1.7 percent.  

  • 4.4 percent of Minnesotans admit to driving under the influence of cannabis, virtually identical to the 4.5 percent who do so nationally.  

It remains to be seen how these cannabis rates shift in Minnesota once we have data from after its legalization. But a reminder to remain vigilant with cannabis, especially around children.

As we have reported, over 50 children age 10 or younger, and another 100 in the 11-14 age range, ended up in U.S. emergency rooms every week, as of 2022, due to intentional and unintentional cannabis consumption.   

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Respiratory & infectious diseases are down — but seasonal allergies may have you sneezing!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one-quarter of all U.S. adults have seasonal allergies. A quick perusal of AccuWeather forecasts show tree pollen in the high range everywhere from Fargo and Duluth to Worthington and Rochester. 

Infectious respiratory diseases, however, continue to wane in Minnesota. 

Hospital admissions due to influenza are finally dropping in Minnesota. After averaging nearly 250 hospital admissions per week since mid-December, the count fell to 212 in the week ending March 23 and then 163 for the final week of March.  

Hospitalizations due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 leveled off a bit in the most recent week or two after steady declines ever since their recent peaks in late December.  

New measles cases reported in U.S. but not in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health has not reported any new cases of measles in the state since the third case this year was reported back in February.

Nationally, however, the CDC is reporting 24 new cases of the highly infectious disease since just two weeks ago, bringing the yearly total to 121 and already tying 2024 with 2022 as the highest year of U.S. measles infection since 2019, when 1,274 cases were identified.

COVID-19 vaccinations are inching up, and so are the recent COVID-19 wastewater levels

This month’s COVID-19 vaccination data update, released by the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday, shows that only three percent of those most vulnerable to hospitalization due to COVID-19, those age 65 or older, are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.

This is an increase of two percentage points from last month, when the vaccination data first reflected a new definition of “up to date,” factoring in the CDC’s latest recommendation that older adults (and those with compromised immune systems) seek a second dose of the newest COVID-19 vaccine formula. 

COVID-19 levels in Minnesota wastewater increased 15 percent statewide over the prior week, as of April 10, according to the latest data from the University of Minnesota’s on-going Wastewater Surveillance Study.

Recent increases in statewide wastewater levels reverse the decline we had seen since mid-March, but the current level is still a 10 percent decrease from the statewide level recorded one month ago.  

Over the last two weeks, the study’s South Central and South West regions have seen the largest increases in wastewater levels.

As of April 3, the south central region had a weekly increase of 141 percent, and the south west region had a weekly increase of 86 percent. Those increases were followed by upticks of 59 and 60 percent, respectively.  

Looking back four weeks, the north west region had an increase of 111 percent and COVID levels increased in the south west region by 103 percent. Both regions, however, have seen longer-term decreases. 

While these recent increases in COVID-19 as measured in wastewater are still relatively minor, it is worthwhile to keep watching.

Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of Scripps Research Triangle Institute, acknowledges in his most recent Substack article that newly arriving variants have some researchers forecasting an uptick in COVID-19 activity in coming months.

He does not think there is a high risk in the short term, but does conclude with the reminder, “High-risk people should continue to take precautions, keeping up with boosters, and all forms of protection.”