Short-term COVID-19 forecasts remain optimistic in Minnesota, but various concerns and a surprising increase in pandemic activity in Europe have left infectious experts on guard over the state’s long-term future.
Corona load in Twin Cities wastewater has fallen 8% since last week and dropped to its lowest level since last summer, the Metropolitan Council reported on Friday.
Sewage sampling has become a key barometer because over time it has been shown to predict changes in viral activity a week or two before it produces increasing COVID-19 cases. Recent levels are consistent with other encouraging signs in Minnesota, where the positivity rate for COVID-19 diagnostic tests dropped to 3% in the week ending March 10th. It is below the state’s 5% precautionary limit, indicating significant viral spread.
COVID-19 hospital admissions in Minnesota have also dropped from a high of 1,629 on January 14 to 284 on Thursday. The state reported 9 COVID-19 deaths and 538 more infections on Friday, but seven-day trends on both have been steadily declining for two months. In total, Minnesota has reported 12,321 COVID-19 deaths, including the first that occurred two years ago to the day of Saturday.
Now is the “safest time in many, many months” for friends and families to gather with a little fear of COVID-19, said Dr. Dimitri Drekonja, an expert in infectious diseases at Minneapolis VA Medical Center. “If you have any risk tolerance at all, it would be now because you can not predict the future. I think everyone expects us to have future waves. Whether they are bumps, wavelets or big waves is open to debate.”
The most optimistic prognosis is that immunity levels from COVID-19 vaccine and recent infections suppress the spread of the virus to the point that it ceases to be a pandemic and becomes a more manageable endemic.
However, an increase in Europe despite high vaccination rates has given rise to concern and health authorities are not sure whether this is due to declining immunity or new coronavirus variants such as the BA.2 omicron subvariant.
Understanding the depth and duration of COVID-19 immunity is too limited to make safe projections, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “We do not know if declining immunity is responsible for what is happening right now in Europe. We do not know what the next variant could be. I get so much setbacks from people saying, ‘we can let it all go right now , it’s all done. ‘ It could be. Wouldn’t that be something? But we could be back in the soup again. “
While viral material in Twin Cities wastewater is declining, sampling found an increase in the proportion involving BA.2 from 17% last week to 42% this week. Nationally, 60% of 485 are wastewater monitoring sites reporting decrease in the total viral load of coronavirus and lower COVID-19 risks.