Omicron keeps changing, driving Minnesota’s COVID-19 outbreak
New variants are driving the latest surge with hospitalizations and deaths now on the rise.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota continues to see new COVID-19 infections climb and more serious cases rise, driven by the latest and more contagious versions of the omicron variant.
There were 2,919 new infections reported Friday, May 13, and the daily average of new cases has grown by roughly 32% over the last week. The state is averaging about 32 new infections and eight hospitalizations per 100,000 residents each week.
The rate of new cases is an undercount and provides limited information about the current size of the state’s outbreak because so many people are now using at-home tests. Those tests are not as accurate as genetic tests done by medical professionals and home tests are not reported to the state Department of Health.
In place of test positivity rates, health officials now focus on the presence of coronavirus genetic material in wastewater, along with the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and fatalities.
All are on the rise, but remain nowhere near as high as during the state’s worst surge this winter. Health officials hope cases will soon peak as more activities move outside, but they are also expecting a fall surge when the weather gets colder.
The latest spike in cases is driven by the latest strains of the omicron variant that pushed cases to record levels in January. Two versions, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, now dominate Twin Cities sewage and BA.2.12.1 is expected to overtake its predecessor in the coming weeks.
Other omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, have also been found in Twin Cities wastewater.
Hospitalizations rose this week with 391 COVID-19 patients hospitalized including 35 in intensive care. That’s more than double the low seen in April, but again, is just a fraction of the last peak when hospitalizations topped 1,600.
Nevertheless, many hospitals remain full and beds are in short supply in the Twin Cities metro and other parts of the state. Hospital capacity has been strained since last fall because of staff shortages, coronavirus patients and people needing care after delaying treatment during the worst of the pandemic.
A dozen more COVID-19 deaths were reported Friday, the most in one day in more than a month. However, fatalities are not reported in a uniform way because each COVID-19 death is investigated, so daily totals do not necessarily represent a trend.
Minnesota has lost 12,559 people to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Those whose deaths were reported Friday ranged in age from their 50s to their 90s.
Nine of the reported deaths were people who resided in private homes and three lived in long-term care. About 46% of those who’ve died lived in nursing homes or assisted living.
Another 290 fatalities are suspected to have been caused by COVID-19 but the person never had a positive coronavirus test.
Health officials maintain that vaccines are the best protection against severe COVID-19. But protection from the shots wanes considerably after five months and boosters are urged for everyone 12 and older.
About 67% of Minnesota’s 5.7 million residents have gotten their initial series of vaccines, but only 46% are up-to-date on their coronavirus vaccines, according to the state Department of Health.
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