It's been about two months since the last big wave of COVID-19 began fading in Minnesota, ending a run of more than six months where daily cases numbered in the thousands.
In fact, the last date that 1,000+ cases were credited to a single day in Minnesota was Feb. 17. Since then, totals have mostly numbered 500 or lower in each daily report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), but rising numbers over the past week – edging closer to 1,000 cases a day – has put the state back on notice that the virus is advancing again.
"We are seeing the amount of virus circulating beginning to creep back up," MDH confirmed to Bring Me The News on Monday, adding that they are hopeful hospitalizations and deaths won't begin to rise as well.
Cases appear to be rising just as mitigation measures in Minnesota and across the country are relaxed. A federal judge ruled Monday that the CDC cannot force airports and airlines to mandate masks, and just this week the school districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul ended their mask mandates.
"We have moved into a phase of the pandemic where risk assessment is much more individualized," MDH told Bring Me The News. "Minnesotans are going to be in different risk categories, and they need to know their risks and be able to assess them for themselves and their families when making decisions about what layers of protection to employ."
The big question going forward is if the BA.2 strain of the omicron variant will behave in Minnesota the way it has in other parts of the world.
New York began seeing cases increase in mid-March. Now a month later, hospitalizations for most age groups under 70 haven't spiked along with cases, according to the New York Times, which featured a story Tuesday saying similar trends have been happening in Washington, D.C., Seattle and Chicago.
But as has been the result with other waves, hospitalizations can lag cases by weeks, so a true understanding of what's going to happen in New York, Seattle, Chicago and D.C. isn't a sure thing.
If what's happened with BA.2 in Europe is any indication, hospitalizations could rise.
In late February, the U.K., which is home to 67 million people, saw its seven day average number of new cases drop to just over 33,000. The BA.2 wave pushed the seven day average to about 87,000 just over three weeks later, with the average since dropping back down to 41,000.
That upward sprint resulted in a worrying rise of hospital admissions that rivaled the seven day average from the original omicron wave of December-January that produced more than double the number of average daily cases.
Fewer cases, but a higher rate of hospitalization for BA.2 compared to BA.1: BA.2 reached a 7-day rolling average high of 2,395 admissions, whereas the BA.1 wave produced an average high of 2,316 patients.
And as one might expect, with hospitalizations during the BA.2 wave rivaling the daily numbers during the BA.1 wave, deaths from BA.2 are also similar despite fewer cases.
Omicron's BA.2 sub-variant accounts for 94% of all wastewater samples collected in the Twin Cities metro area between April 4-11, meaning it has almost entirely replaced BA.1 as the dominant strain.
What happens in Minnesota next is unknown. But the state health department continues to encourage Minnesotans to be vigilant and to implement safety measures, including getting vaccinated and staying up to date with booster shots.
"Our recommendations for people remain: to get the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters as soon as you are eligible. Staying up to date on vaccination provides Minnesotans with the best protection against severe illness," MDH said.
"If you are infected, we recommend speaking with your health care provider or pharmacy as soon as possible about the many early treatments that are now available, especially if you are at high risk for developing severe illness. Staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands and following other public health guidelines that align with the individual assessment of risk for you and your family are the keys to helping slow the spread of COVID-19."