Doctors ‘cautiously optimistic’ about declining MN COVID-19 cases

Infectious disease doctors in Minnesota are “cautiously optimistic” about the decline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past week.

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“This is as good of a trajectory that we have seen in some time,” said Dr. Mark Sannes at HealthPartners. “It’s really going back to before the first of the year, into the October-November timeframe, since we’ve seen numbers trending this favorably.”

There were 130 COVID patients in ICUs across the state Wednesday — which is 32 fewer patients than one week ago — according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. There were also 703 non-ICU patients Wednesday, compared to 927 last week.

“I think, importantly, we’re seeing hospitals emptying out. As delta ended and omicron started, we really didn’t get much of a break at the end of 2021. And as 2022 is evolving, it looks like hospitals are finally starting to get a breather,” Sannes said.

Hennepin Healthcare is reporting similar declines in COVID-19 patients.

“Our inpatient hospitalizations are down almost half of what they were last week,” said Dr. Deepti Pandita, Hennepin Healthcare’s chief health information officer. “Our pediatric hospitalizations are down, which is good news. And in clinic, we are seeing less and less patients acutely sick with COVID.”

Pandita said their hospitals are starting to change COVID-19 policies and protocols.

“We have eased our visitor restrictions so we can have more than one visitor at a time, which I think that support for admitted patients is huge,” Pandita said. “And in terms of staffing, we have eased some of the requirements. We were in contingency staffing and we have now gone back to our usual staffing models. As health care providers, we take a sigh of relief because we need some time to decompress, to give our teams time to decompress.”

Pandita said elective surgeries, which had been delayed or canceled in recent months, are also starting to return to their usual schedules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky hinted during a White House briefing that the agency is also contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks.

Walensky said the CDC wants to “give people a break from things like mask-wearing” when circumstances improve.

Doctors in Minnesota said the public should look for updated guidance from the CDC and MDH as the virus retreats.

“Having some guidance from public health authorities would be helpful as we get to the better part of this pandemic, where we’re finally getting to the downward slope. And what are those thresholds for allowing us to open up again? I think what we’re likely to see over the next several weeks is loosening restrictions in many settings,” Sannes said.

Both Sannes and Pandita noted the future of the virus still remains uncertain.

“Keep your guard up, get vaccinated and then enjoy this little bit of time because we don’t know when the next wave comes if it comes,” Pandita said.

Sannes added, “We want to see that this trajectory keeps going down, but I think we’ve gotten conditioned to expecting things to turn at any moment. I think cautious optimism is really where we’re at, but I think it’s appropriate to be optimistic right now.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked MDH to respond to the waning case counts, hospitalizations and deaths being seen across the state. A spokesperson provided this statement:

“The decrease in hospitalizations is very encouraging and we hope that we will continue to see improvement. The number of people being hospitalized with COVID is still high though, and although there is less virus circulating, the amount of virus in our communities is also high, so we are not “in the clear” yet.  Because the virus will continue to evolve, and immunity that prevents infection does not appear to be life-long with this virus, we need to be prepared for additional waves of COVID in the future.”