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Coronavirus in Minnesota: Cases tick down; scientist wary of new omicron subvariant

The new subvariant isn’t believed to cause more severe disease, but it may be more infectious, and experts warn it could drag out the omicron surge.

COVID-19
COVID-19
Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

On Tuesdays, MinnPost provides weekly updates that cover COVID-19 developments in Minnesota from the previous Wednesday to present.

This week in COVID-19 news

Things are looking up as the wastewater curve bends down: Data from the Metropolitan Council on COVID-19 viral loads in wastewater suggest the omicron surge may be subsiding — at least in the Twin Cities. Measured concentrations of the virus were similar to levels back in mid-November. Of course, this is just one source of data.

line chart showing recent spike in viral load in metro twin cities wastewater followed by a quick drop
Met Council
Will the numbers continue to drop? Nobody really knows. Just as we grow accustomed to our new omicron reality (can you believe we’ve only known about the variant’s presence here for about two months?), some scientists are expressing wariness about a new omicron subvariant. This new subvariant isn’t believed to cause more severe disease, but it may be more infectious, and experts warn it could drag out the omicron surge.

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This week in vaccines: On Monday, the New York Times reported that Pfizer is on the cusp of asking the FDA to authorize a double-dose vaccine regimen for kids ages 6 months to 5 years as the company continues to study a three-dose series for kids in this age group. If approved under emergency authorization, young children could potentially start getting shots as early as late February, per the Times.

Also in vaccine news: On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, a.k.a. Spikevax, the second COVID-19 vaccine to become fully approved in the U.S. for adults, after Pfizer’s.

On Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced the state will distribute 2.1 million free KN95 masks to schools, local public health, community groups and other entities. The dispersal has begun, and is expected to continue as more shipments arrive. The Walz administration says organizations that received the masks will let their communities know how to get them.

Speaking of masks, at this point, health experts, including the CDC, are saying you really should upgrade your mask to an N95 or other high-quality (non-cloth, non-bandanna) one. Here’s an article explaining why, plus how and where to order legitimate — not knockoff — ones. (I just ordered a new pack for my household from Bona Fide masks. They’re cheap and they shipped pretty quickly.)

We’ve been getting some questions about shipped rapid antigen COVID-19 tests and cold weather. Here’s a piece from a couple weeks ago outlining what manufacturers say about using tests that have been left in the cold.

Cases

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health show the state added 78,155 new COVID-19 cases in the seven days between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, for an average of 11,165 new cases per day. That number is likely an undercount — with case volumes high, MDH has been working through a backlog of lab reports.

The most recent seven-day case positivity average — or the average share of positive cases out of total COVID-19 tests — is 21 percent, down from 23.2 percent the week prior. You can find the seven-day case positivity average here.

There have been more breakthrough COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, which early research suggests is more transmissible and avoids vaccine protections against infection better than previous strains of the disease. Still, there are relatively few people who have been hospitalized or who have died of COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. As of Dec. 26, the most recent data available, 7,667 of nearly 3.4 million fully vaccinated Minnesotans have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and 1,369 had died. The data are from early in the omicron surge, however. More data on breakthroughs here.

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Deaths and hospitalizations

Minnesota reported 227 new COVID-19 deaths in the last week, roughly the same as the 230 reported the week prior. (Deaths did not necessarily occur in the week in which they were reported because deaths are not always reported and confirmed immediately.)

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drop in Minnesota. As of Tuesday, 192 people are in intensive care with COVID-19, while 1,178 are hospitalized and not in intensive care. Last Tuesday, 228 were in intensive care and 1,279 were hospitalized and not in intensive care. More information on Minnesota’s current hospitalizations here.

Vaccines

The most recent data show 64.7 percent of Minnesotans, (3.6 million people), had completed the COVID-19 vaccine series. A week ago, 64.4 percent of Minnesotans had completed the vaccine series. More data on the state’s vaccination efforts can be found here.

This week on MinnPost

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