COVID saliva test

Last week, the city of Richfield announced that the community had seen its 5,000th case of COVID-19. The vial shown here is used for the COVID-19 saliva test. (Photo courtesy Bloomington Public Health Division)

With the holiday season now in full swing, local residents are being reminded that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a fact of life.

Among those reminders is the fact that Richfield recently surpassed the 5,000-case milestone as the city experienced its worst positivity rate since last year’s holiday season, the city announced in a media release Nov. 23.

“Positivity rates have ebbed and flowed over the past 20 months, but daily positivity rates have not been this high in Richfield since last November and December,” Jennifer Anderson, community health services administrator for the city of Richfield, said in the release.

“For the majority of 2021, it was rare for the city to experience more than 10 new cases a day. Sadly, we are now seeing double or even triple that amount of daily cases in Richfield.”

The 5,108 COVID-19 cases recorded since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 equate to 14% of Richfield’s population, according to the most recent data included in the city’s online COVID-19 dashboard.

Following a similar pattern of positivity rates as seen in Richfield, Bloomington’s most recent data show 12,821 total cases recorded in the city, amounting to 15% of its population. Like Richfield, Bloomington recently hit a new peak in case rates for 2021.

Vaccinations

As rates remain at elevated levels, the mass vaccination effort continues.

In Bloomington, 83% of residents age 12 and older have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. The city’s vaccination rate for people ages 5 and up is 77%, with children ages 5-11 having been authorized to receive the vaccine since Nov. 2.

Richfield’s vaccination rate for residents age 12 and up is 82%, and 75% for ages 5 and up.

Bloomington Public Health officials cautioned that the vaccination rates are imperfect estimates based on U.S. Census data, and that data from larger populations, like at the county level, have less margin for error.

Explaining the elevated positivity rates, public health officials have cited the delta variant of the virus that emerged last summer and the fact that the vaccine’s effectiveness in an individual can wane over time. To address this, all vaccinated people age 18 and older are authorized to receive booster shots as of Nov. 19.

Dr. Marc Jenkins, a University of Minnesota Immunologist and a Richfield resident, explained the phenomenon of waning vaccine effectiveness.

“When you are first vaccinated against COVID-19 your body’s antibody level is extremely high,” he said in the Richfield release. “Over time, some people’s antibody level against the virus decreases, so they should receive a booster shot. This is especially true for our seniors and those with compromised immune systems.”

Anderson offered a reminder of the stakes involved.

“Richfield residents understand that COVID-19 is a serious, possibly life-threatening disease,” she said. “As soon as a new group becomes eligible to receive the vaccine or a booster shot, the majority of them go out and get it, as soon as possible.”

Among Richfield residents, there have been 50 COVID-19 deaths, 371 hospitalizations and 65 patients in intensive care. Bloomington has seen 188 COVID-19 deaths, 785 hospitalizations and 127 patients in intensive care.

While vaccinated people can still catch the virus, they are far less likely to experience a severe case than the unvaccinated, Jenkins noted.

“The majority of the breakthrough cases for COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but even the patients that do experience symptoms tend to have very mild cases, especially in comparison to those of an unvaccinated person who contracts the virus,” he remarked. “Some studies have even shown that a vaccinated person is 15 times less likely to end up in the hospital, or die from COVID-19, than their unvaccinated counterparts.”

Public health officials are also paying attention to disparities in vaccination rates between racial and ethnic groups. For example, in Bloomington, the rate of Black people ages 5 and up having received at least one dose of the vaccine is 57%, compared to 82% overall, a city of Bloomington spokesperson noted.

Handling the holidays

For Richfield’s Anderson, the arrival of the holiday season brings further cause for concern.

“We all missed out on having our traditional holiday gatherings last year,” she said. “However, that is what we had to do to keep ourselves and those we care about safe from spreading COVID-19. This year, if everyone is vaccinated, or has recently tested negative for COVID-19, gathering for the holiday can happen with some mitigation measures in place like masking when 6 feet apart is difficult, washing your hands frequently and giving everyone some space, if possible.”

Part of making gatherings safer is knowing who will be in attendance, according to Molly Snuggerud, family health program manager for the city of Bloomington.

“People have to assess their own risk levels for COVID-19 and also consider who they will be with and what they know about their vaccine status and activity risk levels as well,” Snuggerud said in an email to the Sun Current. “If people are with people they don’t know well, they need to take all COVID-19 precautions.”

The Minnesota Department of Health provides guidance for how to talk to vaccine-hesitant family and friends, summed up in six points:

• Start from a place of care.

• Listen to concerns with empathy.

• Use open-ended questions to explore opinions.

• Ask permission to share information.

• Help loved ones find reasons to get vaccinated through shared values.

• Help make their vaccine happen.

More guidance on having holiday vaccine conversations can be found at tinyurl.com/ybusc7at.

Copyright © 2021 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

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