Jul. 15—MANKATO — While COVID-19 hospitalizations remain scarce, south-central Minnesota's case counts rose 22% during the most recent reporting week.
The nine area counties combined for 293 newly confirmed cases between July 3-9, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's weekly update released Thursday.
The week's 22% increase came after three straight weekly decreases ranging from 4% to 13% leading up to it.
About a year ago, the south-central region was combining for only 29 weekly cases. Immunity from vaccines was about at its peak at the time, although the lull in cases proved to be short-lived.
Driven by more contagious variants, Minnesota's fall and early winter produced the highest case counts since the pandemic began. The surge risked overwhelming hospitals, resulting in the deadliest stretch for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in early 2020.
Compared to those days, the last few months have been more encouraging. The variants now are still highly effective at spreading the illness, but a mix of vaccine protections and immunity from prior infections, both temporary, are limiting the worst consequences of the coronavirus.
Area counties had no newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths between July 3-9. They've combined for 512 fatalities since the pandemic began.
Recent weeks do indicate the baseline of case counts is markedly higher than what they were a year ago. July 3-9 week's case count was about 10 times higher than the weekly case count in early July 2021, despite at-home tests not counting in the official numbers.
Apart from the documented concerns about long-COVID symptom risks associated with each case, more cases equal more opportunities for a more evasive variant to emerge.
And in the nearer term, local COVID-19 data analyst Derek J. Wingert sees case counts worsening.
"I'd be a lot more surprised to see meaningful and sustained decreases in the coming weeks than I would be to see a bunch of modest to moderate increase in the coming weeks," he said.
Raw case count data and Mayo Clinic projections all count to some degree of higher case counts in area counties. Brown County in particular shows up as a hotspot on Mayo Clinic's projections.
Wingert said the case increase in south-central Minnesota was fairly uniform across the nine counties. Seven of the nine had increases, while Watonwan and Sibley counties each had one fewer case than the week before.
Blue Earth County had an increase from 73 to 79 new cases, while Nicollet County went from 43 to 55. Waseca County's uptick from 13 to 26 was the biggest for raw case totals in the region.
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