Minnesota’s confirmed count of omicron coronavirus infections remained at one Thursday even as COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and school-linked cases remained elevated.
Genomic sequencing of eight suspect specimens from COVID-19 cases found the fast-spreading omicron variant only in a Hennepin County man who had traveled to New York before Thanksgiving. It also appears that the initial infection didn’t produce an outbreak in Minnesota.
“Because he followed guidance and isolated, he had no other contacts with people in MN during his infectious period,” said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, in an e-mail. “We are still investigating but have yet to identify any transmission.”
While omicron presents future concerns, the delta variant continues to cause problems in Minnesota, which reported 40 more COVID-19 deaths and 3,754 more infections on Thursday.
The 1,653 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota on Wednesday also represented another record high for 2021, but growth has slowed this week. Unvaccinated Minnesotans make up the majority of hospitalizations. Sanford Health on Tuesday had reported that 190 of its 207 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in Minnesota and the Dakotas were unvaccinated. Among 37 patients on ventilators, 35 were unvaccinated.
Health officials are hoping that new immunizations as well as booster doses in vaccinated people can reduce the number of severe illnesses requiring inpatient admissions.
Gov. Tim Walz launched a new public information campaign this week to get more shots into arms over the holidays. Vaccine appointments have become scarce, with many chain pharmacies booked for the next two weeks at many Twin Cities locations or through December entirely.
Nearly 40% of fully vaccinated Minnesota adults have received booster doses, a rate that ranks second in the U.S. Overall, Minnesota ranks 23rd among states with a first-dose vaccination rate of 74.4% in people 5 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves 1.3 million eligible residents unvaccinated.
First-dose vaccination rates decline with age but have reached 99%, according to the CDC, in seniors who make up 85% of Minnesota’s total 9,814 COVID-19 deaths. The 40 deaths reported Thursday included 28 seniors and 11 residents of long-term care facilities but also an Anoka County resident 45-49 and a Hennepin County resident 35-39.
Only four COVID-19 deaths in teenagers have been reported since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, but all occurred this fall and health officials have encouraged eligible children 5 and older to seek shots. The state in its weekly COVID-19 report on Thursday showed a preliminary total of 2,969 COVID-19 cases in pre-K-12 students who were infectious in their school buildings during the week ending Nov. 20.
Genomic sequencing in Minnesota has found the delta variant in almost all infections this fall. Omicron was labeled a variant of concern after it was identified last month in South Africa because it appears to spread faster than delta and could evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection. Initial illnesses with omicron have been milder.
Initial COVID-19 test results can identify samples that could involve omicron. Schultz said several more of these suspect samples are undergoing genomic sequencing in the state’s network of public and private labs, with results expected next week.
Health officials remain watchful for other seasonal infectious diseases as well, with Thursday’s weekly state influenza report showing 25 flu-related hospitalizations so far. Influenza was almost nonexistent amid the rise of COVID-19 last season, when only 35 flu-related hospitalizations were reported. In the four previous seasons, flu caused an average of 4,177 hospitalizations.
Two flu-related deaths have been reported so far compared with seven all of last season and an average of 259 in the previous four seasons.
Respiratory syncytial virus combined with COVID-19 to fill up pediatric hospitals in an unusual early fall outbreak. However, lab-confirmed cases of RSV have been declining for the past four weeks, which also is unusual because the infection typically peaks at this time of year.