The death of a teenager in Beltrami County announced Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health marks the third teenage death from COVID-19, all of them happening in the past three months.
In October, a teenager from Hennepin County died, followed by the death of a teen in Goodhue County in November. All three teenage deaths were individuals aged 15-19.
The pandemic has proved to be very hard on school-aged kids, beginning with forcing schools into distance learning during the 2020-21 school year and now with the delta variant impacting young people as a more transmissible virus capable of producing more severe disease, namely among the unvaccinated.
Kids ages 5 and older are eligible to be vaccinated in Minnesota.
Numerous school districts have announced longer upcoming winter breaks, not only to give students and staff a longer break after more than a year of stressful pandemic-related circumstances, but also to help prevent further spread of the disease during the ongoing surge affecting Minnesota.
How the pandemic evolves with the arrival of the omicron variant remains to be seen, but early reports out of South Africa (where the variant was discovered) have revealed a significant increase in child hospitalizations, especially kids younger than 5 who are not eligible to be vaccinated.
Perhaps a key metric favoring the U.S. and more specifically, Minnesota, is that only 42% of adults are in South Africa are fully vaccinated. In Minnesota, 64.9% of people aged 5 and older are fully vaccinated.
Health leaders remain confident that the vaccines will continue to protect against severe illness and death from the omicron variant, which has been the case so far in reinfection cases around the world, including the first case involving omicron in Minnesota.
"We're delighted that the initial cases who have had vaccine breakthrough have had mild illness," says Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health. "If we can prevent infection in the first place, great. But ultimately our goal with vaccination is to limit hospitalizations and prevent death. And so far, with limited data, that's what we've seen."