REGIONAL- The good news about the Delta-driven surge of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is that, for now, it doesn’t appear to be getting any worse. The bad news is that new daily cases …
REGIONAL- The good news about the Delta-driven surge of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota is that, for now, it doesn’t appear to be getting any worse. The bad news is that new daily cases aren’t expected to trend significantly downward in the next few weeks.
The current surge can be traced back to June 26, when an almost unbelievable low of only 35 new cases were reported. A month later, Minnesota was recording more than 550 new cases per day, and by August 26, daily case counts were in the mid 1,500s.
The number of new cases on Thursday, Sept. 2, reported this Tuesday, was 2,088, the third day that week daily cases topped 2,000. That’s an increase of 50 times the daily case count in only 68 days.
But if the various COVID-19 model projections are to be believed, then Minnesota should likely be staying around that level and begin seeing a slow decline by the end of the month.
The Centers for Disease Control created a composite projection using 20 different COVID-19 trend models, and the most recent shows the surge peaking during the week of Sept. 13, with a small trend toward declining numbers toward the end of the month.
At the county level, the CDC model indicates St. Louis County has flatlined at approximately 250 cases per day, which will continue over the next two weeks.
But the most widely-cited model throughout the earlier stages of the pandemic is far less optimistic. The most recent projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington indicates daily COVID-19 cases in Minnesota will keep on rising through October, more than doubling to a peak of around 4,500 new cases per day by the first week of November before taking a downward turn.
Both vaccinations and the emergence of the Delta variant have been game changers in how the latest surge is playing out.
Americans 65 and over were the first primary focus for vaccinations, and the effort has largely been a success. Nationwide, about 80 percent of that age group has been vaccinated, and in Minnesota the number is even higher, with 93 percent having received at least one vaccine dose.
But with only 68 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and older having completed their vaccinations, and with those under 12 ineligible to be vaccinated, the data reported by state officials has been consistent and clear during the latest surge: the unvaccinated are overwhelmingly driving the surge, and cases have shifted to younger age groups.
While state health officials haven’t held a press conference since last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics tracks child COVID-19 cases, and the latest figures are troubling. Once believed by many to be largely untouchable by the virus, nearly 252,000 children 19 and under were reported as having contracted COVID-19 between Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. That represents 26.8 percent of all new cases in the U.S. for the same time period, and an astronomical jump over just 8,500 child cases reported for the week beginning June 24.
And in Minnesota, 123,786 children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, representing 18.9 percent of the state’s total cases.
The vast majority of Minnesota school children returned to classes this week at a time when the seven-day case average has been running nearly double what it was at the start of the 2020-21 school year. State health and education officials have stressed precautions such as mandatory masking and frequent testing, but now that the peacetime emergency has lapsed, they have no authority to mandate such moves.
In the North Country, the bi-weekly case rate for COVID is 33.4. In September 2020, when masks were required, that number was in the range where schools were recommended to shift to only 50 percent capacity in schools and on buses, with elementary students alternating days of attendance and junior and senior high students doing all distance learning.
Listening to the information from their consulting health care providers, Ely Public Schools made a last minute shift to require masking for all students, staff, and visitors indoors starting the first day of class, and the district will continue to evaluate on an ongoing basis.
ISD 2142 students, including those at North Woods, Tower-Soudan, and Northeast Range, returned to in-person classes on Tuesday with a masks-optional-for-all policy. Given the immense size of the 4,000-square-mile district, administrators conduct localized ongoing evaluation at each school.
The Albert Lea school district, which started earlier than normal this year, provides evidence of why state officials are concerned about COVID-19 in schools this year. After the first week of attendance, 36 cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the district and 300 students and staff were in quarantine.
Not all states report child hospitalizations and deaths, but for those who do, the percentage of hospitalizations from COVID-19 has doubled in many states from the pandemic-long rate of .9 percent to 1.9 percent.
From a low of 41,600 weekly doses of vaccine administered in Minnesota in mid-July, weekly vaccinations had been on the rise to 67,900 in the last full week of August, an increase state officials said was due both to concern over the recent Delta variant surge and state incentive programs. But that trend may have reversed itself last week, with only 44,000 doses having been administered going into the Labor Day holiday weekend.
St. Louis County Public Health Director Amy Westbrook said last week that the northern part of the county is one of two regions where case rates are running higher than the overall countywide rate, while vaccinations are lower.
Last week was also the first in months in which all six North Country zip codes monitored by the Timberjay reported new cases. Ely topped the list with five, while Cook had four, and Embarrass had three. Orr, Tower, and Soudan all had one new case reported in the state summary released Sept. 2.