Data from Minnesota shows that reinfection with COVID-19 is not a free pass – Community News
Covid-19

Data from Minnesota shows that reinfection with COVID-19 is not a free pass

COVID-19 hasn’t been a one-time event for Big Lake’s substitute teacher, Rebecca Schwirtz — or for more than 8,000 Minnesotans like her who have tested positive for the infectious disease more than once.

Re-infection with the coronavirus has resulted in two long-term COVID-19 illnesses, two basement isolations and two extended absences from work for Schwirtz and has left the 40-year-old mother of three paranoid about subsequent sniffles or coughs.

“Whoever does these home COVID tests is killing,” Schwirtz said, “because I’m buying them — as much as I can get.”

Health officials knew about the potential for reinfections — after hopes that COVID-19 would be a one-time disease were dashed early in the pandemic — but Minnesota quantified the problem for the first time Monday. The Department of Health reported a total of 8,184 reinfections, including a few people who had COVID-19 three or more times.

While reinfections make up just 1% of the 797,984 coronavirus infections reported in Minnesota, health commissioner Jan Malcolm said they are proof that past illness is not a free pass and that vaccination is important.

“Unlike some other things, you get COVID when it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t get it anymore,” she said.

Minnesota’s pandemic total includes 2,857 new initial infections reported Monday, along with 25 COVID-19 deaths.

The state’s death toll rose to 8,694 — with the 424 deaths reported so far in October, the highest monthly total since 775 deaths in January.

The state hit a low of 55 COVID-19 deaths in July before the latest wave was fueled by the rapidly spreading delta variant.

The wave prompted the Biden administration to issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to major employers, though federal rules have yet to be published. Regardless, many companies continued to issue mandates and set deadlines within which workers could be vaccinated or apply for exemptions.

Minnesota health care providers reported vaccination rates above 90% among employees, but Duluth-based Essentia Health announced that 49 employees were fired for failing to meet the November 1 deadline and Minneapolis-based Allina Health reported 23 divorce agreements.

HealthPartners reported that fewer than 45 full-time employees had one month of unpaid leave, giving them their last chance to get vaccinated or apply for waivers. North Memorial has a December 1 deadline for its employees.

While indicators for the severity of the pandemic are below their October peaks, progress has slowed. The state reported Friday that 908 hospital beds in Minnesota were filled with COVID-19 patients, including 214 requiring intensive care. The diagnostic test positivity rate for COVID-19 is 7.3%, below a recent high of 8.4% but above the state’s 5% caution threshold.

The state also reported Monday that 57,023 coronavirus infections have occurred among the 3.2 million fully vaccinated individuals in Minnesota — a breakthrough infection rate of 1.8%.

The breakthrough cases included 2,609 people who were hospitalized and 372 who died from COVID-19.

Breakthrough infections accounted for about 33% of infections diagnosed in the past week.

Schwirtz is both a breakthrough and reinfection.

Her first coronavirus infection came in late December, when her family celebrated it after months of house arrest by skiing and eating out.

Schwirtz thought she had food poisoning, but realized it must be something else because people eating the same foods were healthy.

Schwirtz recovered after two weeks of rest and minimal water and food intake and happily sought COVID-19 vaccination in February. She remained cautious as classes began this fall, going in early to sanitize the rooms where she taught to reduce risks to students when she developed allergy-like symptoms and tested positive again in early October.

This time she felt classic flu-like symptoms — no fever but labored breathing.

“If I had to go up a flight of stairs, I was like out of breath when I got there and had to take a little break,” she said.

The health department collected reinfection statistics this fall after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached a case definition of when a person tests positive at least 90 days after a previous infection.

Epidemiologists will use the data to investigate whether variant strains increase the risk of reinfection and whether second infections cause worse disease.

Studies show that the COVID-19 vaccine remains highly protective against hospitalization and death, but has lost some effectiveness in preventing infections.

Third booster doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are recommended for seniors and younger adults with underlying health conditions or jobs that increase their risk of infection.

Boosters are recommended for all Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients.

Schwirtz said she will seek a booster and injections for two of her three children under 11 when they qualify.

Schwirtz’s story could argue for giving up as she tried to avoid COVID-19, followed the mitigation advice and still tested positive twice. Instead, she said she hopes it’s a warning to still take precautions after 20 months and protect others from COVID-19 by slowing the viral spread.

“Do your best,” she said.