COVID-19 levels in Minnesota remain quite low compared to the nation's hot spots, though state health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated as the Delta variant and other variants that are more transmissible pose a health threat.
The Delta variant, which wrought havoc in India and other countries around the world in recent months, has quickly become the most common form of the coronavirus in the United States. According to the CDC, Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, accounted for more than half of all cases nationwide through July 3.
In two-week increments going back to mid-May, Delta has accounted for:
- 3.1% of all cases in the U.S. on May 22
- 10.1% on June 5
- 43.4% on June 19
- 57.2% on July 3
Genomic sequencing, which identifies strains of the virus, through July 3 found that the B.1.1.7 variant (the U.K. variant) accounted for 72.6% of the 576 samples sequenced in Minnesota in a two-week period ending July 3. Just 5.4% of those samples were Delta.
But Delta is rising in Minnesota as the B.1.1.7 strain falls. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, since June 1, 64% of all cases sequenced in Minnesota have been B.1.1.7, while Delta has risen to 14%. Moreover, since June 24 sequencing has found 19 cases of Delta in Minnesota and only 18 cases of B.1.1.7, further signaling Delta's arrival.
"It’s clear that the Delta variant is more transmissible, but the evidence is still unclear as to whether it causes more severe disease," a spokesperson from the state health department told Bring Me The News.
Of the 129 cases of Delta identified in Minnesota (not all cases are sequenced to identify a specific strain), 21 of resulted in the patient being hospitalized (16%), including two deaths (2%). This could suggest it can cause more serious illness than B.1.1.7, which has seen 7% of all identified cases (more than 17,000) result in hospitalization, in addition to 132 deaths (1%), albeit there remains a much smaller sample size to go on.
Minnesota is once again reporting rising cases of COVID-19, though this hasn't yet been followed by a corresponding rise in hospitalizations, which tend to lag a few weeks.
As MPR News' David Montgomery showed on Wednesday, the number of new cases is rising more quickly among the unvaccinated population than the vaccinated.
"Wherever there are low vaccination rates, people remain more susceptible to the Delta variant as well as all strains of the SARS CoV2 virus," the MDH spokesperson told BMTN. Based on each county's total population receiving at least one dose of a vaccine, these are the 10 counties with the lowest vaccination rates in Minnesota:
- Clearwater County - 34.2%
- Todd County - 36.2%
- Wadena County - 37.3%
- Mille Lacs County - 37.9%
- Morrison County - 38%
- Pine County - 38.4%
- Kanabec County - 38.6%
- Isanti County - 39.2%
- Benton County - 40%
- Meeker County - 40.2%
"We would tell people in those locations that the best thing they can do to protect themselves and their families is to get vaccinated," the spokesperson stated.
The ten counties with the highest percent of its population to have received at least one dose are:
- Cook County - 73.7%
- Olmsted County - 66.3%
- Hennepin County - 64.4%
- Washington County - 62.8%
- Dakota County - 61.9%
- Carver County - 60.7%
- Ramsey County - 60.1%
- Lake County - 59.9%
- Scott County - 57.4%
- St. Louis County - 57%
For context, if 64.4% of Hennepin County's 1.266 million residents have received at least one shot, that still leaves more than 450,000 people in the county completely unvaccinated, though many of the unvaccinated are children under the age of 12 who are not yet approved for vaccine.
How does the Delta variant impact kids?
"The average age of hospitalizations and deaths from the Delta variant does not appear at this time to be significantly different (younger) than from other variants," the MDH spokesperson said. "However, to the extent that children under 12 remain unvaccinated, they are vulnerable to infection from COVID variants, so parents should take precautions to protect their children when out in public, in crowded areas, etc."
The health department is in the process of working with the Department of Education to finalize health and safety plans for the upcoming school year.
"Prioritizing in-person learning while protecting the health and safety of students, staff and families remains our top priority. MDH will be working with MDE to review the CDC guidance for schools and will be making updates to the Minnesota school guidance for the 2021-22 school year," the spokesperson noted.
"We will share more information on the final guidance when it is ready. We continue to urge all eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated now so they are ready for the school year and we can help limit spread of COVID-19 in schools and our communities."