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REGIONAL- In one of the clearest signs yet of the changing COVID-19 pandemic landscape, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced last week that it was ending its daily reporting of new COVID …
REGIONAL- In one of the clearest signs yet of the changing COVID-19 pandemic landscape, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced last week that it was ending its daily reporting of new COVID cases, switching to a system of weekly reporting similar to that adopted weeks and months ago by most states, including Minnesota.
Health officials are still vacillating over whether COVID remains in the pandemic stage or has shifted to an endemic disease that is less intense overall but will remain present for years if not decades to come, similar to influenza. Daily case data has become increasingly unreliable as an indicator of community levels as the nation has shifted to home-based rapid tests that aren’t reported to government health officials. But the CDC’s shift lends credence to the argument that COVID is fading as a pandemic disease. Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID are the more commonly accepted standards today, and both have been declining in recent weeks. Deaths are currently running at just under 400 a day, an eight percent drop in the last two weeks.
The CDC reporting change is the latest in a series of changes in the federal response to the COVID situation. The federal government has discontinued distributing free COVID tests, and in August it was reported that they are backing out of distributing vaccines. The private market manufactures like Pfizer and Moderna and those of lesser used vaccines, will take over vaccine distribution, likely in early 2023. And Congress has failed to agree on a request from the Biden administration for billions more in funding for COVID and monkeypox.
The CDC also recently relaxed its recommendations for health care facilities, including long-term care.
Universal masking when community COVID levels are low or moderate is optional, although it may be required based on circumstances identified by facility personnel.
And in what could give a small boost to the shortage of healthcare workers, workers who have been exposed to COVID but are asymptomatic do not have to be excluded from the workplace.
The highly infectious BA.5 Omicron variant is still dominant in Minnesota and the rest of the country, but reached a peak of 87 percent of the overall circulating viral load in late August and has started slowly yielding to an even more infectious variant, BA4.6. As of last Saturday, CDC data indicated that BA4.6 may make up almost 15 percent of the total viral load while BA.5 makes up 80 percent. With new boosters tailored to BA.4 and BA.5, the country is positioned to ward off a possible new fall peak of COVID, but only if shots are getting in arms.
And that’s not happening. Fewer than 300,000 Pfizer and Moderna boosters combined have been administered to Minnesotans since the boosters were authorized for use at the end of August. That leaves 96 percent of Minnesotans with less effective protection or no protection at all against the most prevalent variants circulating. St. Louis County is only slightly better in booster administration, with 6.6 percent of the county’s population having received them.
The North Country also has the highest levels of COVID deaths in the county and the second highest level of hospitalizations, although the real differences are less significant than the reported statistical measures of hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000. Still, the North Country’s death rate of 68.1 is slightly higher than the central/southwest region’s rate of 62.1 and nearly double that of the Duluth region at just 37.8. The North Country’s hospitalization rate of 427.3 is greater than that of the Duluth area but less than the central and southwest segment of the county.
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