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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Conflicting COVID data reflects changes in reporting

David Colburn
Posted 8/17/22

REGIONAL- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic had mixed COVID messages for St. Louis County last week, and the changes in the way that COVID cases are reported may well be the …

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Conflicting COVID data reflects changes in reporting


REGIONAL- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic had mixed COVID messages for St. Louis County last week, and the changes in the way that COVID cases are reported may well be the reason why.
The latest COVID data from the CDC boosted the county’s community rating back up to “high,” confirmation that the B.5 variant still has a grip on the region. Yet, according to data from the Mayo, St. Louis County’s COVID rates are relatively low, at least compared to surrounding counties, where the community rating ranged from moderate to high.
Amidst the competing evaluations, one thing is clear from the county’s own COVID dashboard. With a seven-day case average of 46 reported last Thursday, cases in the county this summer have persisted at levels above previous years.
“When you look at the numbers, our average is higher than it has been the last two summers,” St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook told the Timberjay on Tuesday. “And that’s without having a good surveillance system anymore because so much testing is done (with) over-the counter (tests), so many positives are not reported to the public health system. Really, our seven-day average is probably much higher.”
It’s the variations in how cases are reported and what measures are used that likely account for the mixed information about surrounding counties, Westbrook said, but she didn’t suggest that the CDC made the wrong call on raising the county’s community level to high.
“We’re still in the pandemic with omicron being the dominant variant, and it’s a much more infectious subvariant than alpha and delta,” Westbrook said. “We’re still seeing quite a bit of transmission. We’re also seeing a lot more people who have had COVID who are having it multiple times now.”
Westbrook said she believes that the signs are pointing toward this as a transition period of moving from COVID being a pandemic to a disease that is endemic, one that will take its place in the group of regularly occurring respiratory conditions like influenza.
“COVID is here to stay,” she said.
Easing guidance
CDC officials concur with Westbrook’s assessment, and last week’s issuance of relaxed COVID restrictions falls in line with learning to live with the pandemic for the long haul.
Most notably, the new guidance lifts quarantine requirements for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 without feeling symptoms and deemphasizes screening people with no COVID symptoms.
School protocols have also updated, with K-12 students who have been exposed to a case of COVID but have no symptoms themselves now able to remain in school, with masks recommended. Gone is the wholesale testing requirement for merely being exposed to a case.
The CDC’s focus is moving to one of individuals taking greater responsibility for assessing their own COVID risk and making decisions about how to manage that risk. The CDC has created an online tool called “Understanding Exposure Risks” that guides people through a series of basic questions with illustrations to help determine for each factor whether the risk is lower, moderate, or higher. Links are provided for what to do if a person determines they are at a higher risk of being exposed. The page can be found at
“We know what we can do to minimize our risk and how we can alter our health behaviors to minimize our risks,” Westbrook said. “We’re at the point where that’s really what we’re looking to our populations to do.”
Westbrook noted that there are additional systems in place for facilities such as schools, day care centers, and long-term care facilities to monitor and report possible exposures and COVID cases.
“We’re really focusing on key partners in the community including schools, long term care facilities, day cares, and congregate care settings. That won’t change at all. We’re still really actively involved in consultation and infection control.”


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