Coronavirus levels in Twin Cities’ wastewater rose 58% over the past week, indicating that the peak of Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 wave is still ahead.
A rapid spread of coronavirus variant – known as BA.2.12.1 and responsible for a wave of COVID-19 in the northeastern United States – accounted for 47% of the amount of virus in wastewater tested 10-16. May at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul. BA.4 and BA.5, the latest variants of concern causing multiple cases in South Africa, also accounted for 7% of the viral load in the twin cities.
Rising viral proliferation has resulted in more infections – a further 2,424 were reported Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health along with three more COVID-19 deaths – but it has not produced the level of serious illness that occurred in Minnesota’s previous pandemic waves.
COVID-19 hospital admissions in Minnesota rose to 442 on Thursday, but only 33 (or 7%) required intensive care for patients who had breathing problems or other complications from their infections. At its peak over the past two years, Minnesota’s share of COVID-19 hospital admissions requiring intensive care was over 30%.
State health officials believe that immunity to COVID-19 vaccinations and recent infections is helping to reduce the number of infections causing serious illness in the recent wave. However, they called for continued COVID-19 vaccinations because even a low degree of serious illness can deplete hospital capacity if enough people become infected at once.
Only 49% of Minnesotans 5 and older are considered up to date with vaccinations, meaning they have completed the initial series and received the first boosters when recommended. That number has not changed in weeks because the number of new vaccine recipients is being offset by previous recipients who have rejected boosters and lost some immunity to coronavirus infection.
Wastewater data has become a key to Minnesota’s pandemic surveillance because over time it has identified changes in viral spread before the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise or fall. The viral load identified on St. Paul plant this week is the highest since mid-January and is 20 times higher than the low point earlier this year in mid-March.
The increase compares with the latest overall results from 40 wastewater treatment plants in Minnesota that serve approximately 67% of the state’s population. Virus loads from 13 other treatment plants in the metropolitan area have fallen since last week, according to overall results provided by the University of Minnesota. Sampling results may fluctuate among plants, especially if more rapidly spreading viral variants are more prevalent in some communities than others.