The Minnesota Department of Health has launched studies to assess the impact of long-term COVID

Minnesota is launching telephone surveys of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two years to learn about any lingering effects of the infectious disease.

The studies come at the three-year mark of the pandemic, as Minnesota faces relatively low but ongoing rates of COVID-19. The acute consequences are well defined; Minnesota has reported nearly 1.8 million laboratory-confirmed coronavirus infections and 14,497 deaths from COVID-19, according to Thursday’s weekly pandemic update.

The long-term consequences remain more of a mystery, including the percentage of infected people who end up with post-COVID conditions — also known as long COVID.

COVID-19 may just linger in some people or worsen existing health problems in others, but in some people it creates an almost entirely new chronic disease, said Kate Murray, longtime manager of the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID program.

“These people may even fully recover from their initial acute infections and after a few weeks they have these new weird symptoms that get worse and worse,” Murray said during a public online webinar on the long COVID-19 outbreak Wednesday.

The studies will include a random sample of Minnesotans with laboratory-confirmed infections in 2021 and 2022. A second project will focus on McLeod County in central Minnesota and examine people one month after their laboratory-confirmed infections.

“The prolonged COVID is real and has a tangible impact on Minnesotans’ ability to thrive,” said Jay Desai, manager of the health department’s Division of Chronic Disease and Environmental Epidemiology.

The goal is to identify the prevalence of long-term COVID and the most common symptoms so that the state and health care providers can respond with appropriate types of treatments and therapy options.

Surveyors will immediately identify themselves as working for the Minnesota Department of Health. Calls to the statewide survey will come from 651-318-6203 and calls to the McLeod survey will come from 763-445-4875.

The wastewater readings showed declining or stable levels of the coronavirus in wastewater samples collected statewide through March 8, according to a University of Minnesota dashboard. Virus levels also dropped 43 percent in samples collected last week at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul after rising a week earlier.

Hospitals reported a lower burden of COVID-19, with 285 cases of the infectious disease occupying hospital beds on Tuesday. That included just 23 COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care, the lowest number since April 2022.

Deaths from COVID-19 continue to hover around five to seven per day in Minnesota, after a brief spike in January of about 10 per day. Risks remain concentrated in the elderly, who account for nearly 93% of the 442 COVID-19 deaths reported so far in Minnesota in 2023.

Murray said long-term COVID remains a risk even from current variants of the coronavirus, which do not cause as severe cases of COVID-19 as previous variants. Prolonged COVID is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as symptoms four or more weeks after initial infection. Prevalence estimates vary widely from 5% to 30% in adults.

Murray said more than 200 symptoms have been attributed to prolonged COVID and can vary widely in intensity and duration. Common neurological symptoms include difficulty concentrating, headaches, trouble sleeping, tingling sensations in the extremities, and changes in smell and taste.

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