Health data summary: COVID-19 in deer, cannabis-related emergency visits for children

This week’s roundup of health data includes mostly good news about COVID-19 in humans, but bad news for COVID-19 in deer.

When the state is fast approaching August 1 legalization of recreational marijuana, we also take a quick look at some recently published national studies that suggest a need for parents to be careful with cannabis storage, as well as the recent downward trend in marijuana use among teenagers in Minnesota.

COVID-19: Mainly good news for people

The latest weekly data from the Minnesota Department of Health continues to show low levels of COVID-19 circulation and impacts, although the remaining COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are certainly serious for affected individuals and their families.

New hospitalizations with COVID-19 are up somewhat in the department’s latest data, with 12 admissions reported on July 13 — the first day of double-digit COVID-19 admissions since late May. COVID-19 hospitalizations remain well below the normal 50-per-day levels reported at the beginning of the year.

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COVID hospitalizations in MN

The Minnesota Department of Health reported a slight increase in hospitalizations with COVID-19 in the week ending July 13.

David H. Montgomery

This increase appears relatively small. In fact, MDH reported zero intensive care hospitalizations with COVID-19 in three days during the past week ending July 13. This is reflected in the Danish Health Authority’s latest mortality datawhich shows three days with zero COVID-19-related deaths in the week ending June 29 (mortality data lags behind hospitalization data).

The Danish Health Authority shows that until 9 July, 27.2 percent of Minnesotans are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, led by the 68.9 percent of those age 65 or older who are up-to-date. Vaccination rates have barely moved in the past several months.

COVID-19 in wastewater still at very low levels despite recent increases

Data from metro wastewater treatment plants show that the weekly average viral RNA load in wastewater continues to fluctuate as of the week ending July 16, according to Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Genomic Center. But overall levels remain very low.

That University of Minnesota Parallel Statewide Wastewater Analysis shows several relative increases throughout the state as of July 9, but overall levels in the survey’s seven regions remain low.

Levels of COVID-19 in wastewater entering treatment plants in the northwest and northeast regions increased by more than 100 percent over the previous four weeks. But the Northwest region saw a 50-point drop from the previous week. The Northeast region saw only a 17 percent increase over the previous week.

The study’s South Central region saw a 90 percent increase in COVID-19 sewage levels over the previous week after a monthly drop in levels of nearly 60 percent. Likewise, the Southeast region saw a 58 percent increase over the previous week after a monthly decline of nearly 50 percent.

See the latest Minnesota COVID-19 data

COVID-19: Not so good news for white-tailed deer

While the latest data on sewage, hospitalization and mortality raises few concerns about COVID-19 in Minnesota for humans, a new study piqued our interest. As reported in The Center for Infection Research and Policy’s latest “Osterholm Update,” the USDA released a major new study showing COVID-19 transmission among white-tailed deer. According to the department“our research shows that SARS-CoV-2 was transmitted from humans to deer, mutated and potentially was transmitted back to humans.”

They are quick to add that “there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in the spread of the virus to humans.” But in the Agriculture Department’s video accompanying the study, Minnesota State Wildlife Services Director Gary Nohrenberg notes that “the implications of this disease (COVID-19) becoming more present could affect (deer hunting) as a recreational sport for many hunters across the country.”

The federal agency’s resource page about this study shows that 100 of the 860 deer screened in Minnesota tested positive for COVID-19.

A study published by the CDC last week on hashish-involved emergency room visits among adolescents and young adults has possible ramifications for Minnesota as recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state on August 1st.

It was previously known that cannabis-related emergency room visits for youth ages 0-14 increased nationally before 2019, when more states legalized cannabis. The recent study shows that there were also significant increases in cannabis-related emergency room visit rates for children age 10 and younger, as seen in the graph below. The same applied to young people aged 11-14 and was particularly pronounced among female children in this age group.

What is driving this increase? The reasons aren’t known for sure, but among children age 10 and younger, the study’s authors suggest that the abundance of THC-containing edibles, many packaged in a way that could appeal to children, is likely behind this bump. And during the pandemic, when children had to stay at home, there was probably a greater chance of accidentally consuming edibles in the house.

So readers, if you choose to eat edibles, please store them safely – especially if children are around.

Among 11- to 14-year-olds, the study’s authors note that young teens were likely to turn to cannabis to help manage pandemic-related stress, citing additional research on mental health and coping mechanisms among youth during the pandemic.

The study looked at national data and unfortunately doesn’t break it down by state or region, so we can’t know how Minnesota youth fared in the parameters of this specific study. But we looked at data on marijuana use from Minnesota Student Surveyadministered every three years, to provide some additional context.

According to these data, the percentage of middle and high school students in Minnesota who reported using marijuana or hashish at least once in the previous 12 months decreased from 2013 to 2022. This was especially true among 11th graders: eight percent fewer students reported using marijuana in 2022 than in 2013. For ninth graders – seven percent fewer students.

These data suggest that cannabis use has decreased among young people in Minnesota, but we do not have the data to see if cannabis-related emergency visits follow national trends. A finding that holds up from the national survey — it appears that marijuana use is slightly higher among female teens in Minnesota in 2022 compared to male teens.

For example, in 2022, 18 percent of young women in 11th grade compared to 15 percent of young men reported using marijuana at least once. This is a reversal from 2013, when marijuana use was higher among young males in 11th grade (22 percent of young females reported using marijuana at least once in the previous year compared to 28 percent of young males).

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