Flu, COVID-19 cases increasing in Minnesota ahead of Christmas gatherings

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are plateauing in Minnesota as other respiratory illnesses spread, according to the latest Minnesota Department of Health data.

“We’re hoping we’re on the downward slope for RSV activity in the state. It’s too early to say for sure, but that is our hope of what we’re seeing with early indications,” said Kathy Como-Sabetti, an epidemiology manager with MDH. “Influenza is the one that seems to be taking off this week.”

The latest state data shows there were 159 flu hospitalizations during the week ending on Dec. 16, which was an increase from 100 hospitalizations the week before.

“We’ve seen a pretty rapid increase,” Como-Sabetti said.

The rise comes as Minnesota also sees a steady rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, she said.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization listed JN.1 a COVID “variant of interest.” It accounts for about 21% of new cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Right now it would be unlikely that the increase we’re seeing is solely due to a new variant,” Como-Sabetti said. “We do see cases increase with new variants. Is this different enough than the old variant to really push case numbers and hospitalizations up? It’s too early to tell.”

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the rate of COVID hospitalizations is lower than it was at this point last year. Still, the increase is a reminder to get vaccinated. Less than 18% of Minnesotans have received all of the doses they’re eligible for.

Loved ones should also take caution before gathering for the holidays, including getting tested or postponing events if experiencing respiratory illness symptoms.

“You need to consider how you’re feeling,” Como-Sabetti said. “Certainly, symptoms can be mild but also think about who you’re gathering with, especially if you’re gathering with people who might be at high risk for severe illness.”