Health data roundup: COVID-19 in deer, cannabis-related emergency visits for kids

Published 6:50 am Monday, July 24, 2023

By Benjamin Clary and Craig Helmstetter, Minnesota Public Radio News

This week’s health data round-up includes mainly good news on COVID-19 in humans, but bad news for COVID-19 in deer.

As the state rapidly approaches the Aug. 1 legalization of recreational marijuana, we also take a quick look at some newly published national research which suggests a need for parents to be careful with cannabis storage, as well as the recent downward trend in marijuana use among Minnesota teens.

COVID-19: Mainly good news for humans

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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 impacted individuals and their families.

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

This increase appears relatively minor. In fact, MDH reported zero intensive care admissions with COVID-19 in three days during the most recent week, ending July 13. This is mirrored in the health department’s latest mortality data, which shows three days with zero COVID-19-related deaths in the week ending June 29 (mortality data lags behind hospitalization data).

The health department is showing that through July 9, 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 budged in the last several months.

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

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

The University of Minnesota’s parallel statewide wastewater analysis shows several relative increases throughout the state, as of July 9, but overall levels in the study’s seven regions remain low.

The levels of COVID-19 in wastewater entering treatment plants in the North West and North East regions increased by more than 100 percent over the prior four weeks. But the North West region saw a 50 point drop over the prior week. The North East region only saw an increase of 17 percent over the prior week.

The study’s South Central region saw a 90 percent increase in COVID-19 wastewater levels over the prior week after a monthly drop in levels of nearly 60 percent. Likewise, the South East region saw a 58 percent increase over the prior 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 recent wastewater, hospitalization and mortality data raise few concerns about COVID-19 in Minnesota for humans, one new study did raise our interest. As reported in the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy’s latest “Osterholm Update,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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 was potentially transmitted back to humans.”

They are quick to add that “there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to humans.” However, in the agriculture department’s video accompanying the study, Minnesota State Wildlife Services Director Gary Nohrenberg notes “the implications of that disease [COVID-19] becoming more present could impact [deer hunting] as a recreational sport for a lot of hunters throughout the country.”

The federal agency’s resource page on 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 cannabis-involved emergency department visits among youth and young adults has possible implications for Minnesota as recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state on Aug. 1.

It was previously known that cannabis-related emergency department visits for youths aged 0-14 years increased nationally before 2019 as more states legalized cannabis. The recent study shows that there were also significant increases in cannabis-related emergency visit rates for children 10 years old and younger, as seen in the graph below. The same held true for youth aged 11-14 years and was particularly pronounced among female children in that age group.

What’s driving this increase? The reasons are not definitely known, but among children aged 10 years and younger, the study’s authors suggest that the profusion of THC-containing edibles, many packaged in a way that could appeal to children, are likely behind this bump. And, during the pandemic, as children had to remain home, there was likely greater opportunity to accidentally ingest edibles in the house.

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

Among 11-to-14-year-olds, the study’s authors note that young teens likely turned to cannabis to help deal with 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, does not break it out by state or region so we can’t know how Minnesota youth fared in the parameters of this specific study. But we did look at data on marijuana usage from the Minnesota Student Survey, administered every three years, to provide some extra context.

According to this data, the proportion of Minnesota middle and high school students who reported using marijuana or hashish at least once in the prior 12 months declined from 2013 to 2022. This was particularly true among 11th graders: eight percent fewer students reported using marijuana in 2022 than 2013 For ninth graders — seven percent fewer.

This data does suggest cannabis usage is down among young people in Minnesota, but we don’t have the data to see if cannabis-related emergency visits follow national trends. One finding that does hold from the national study — it appears that marijuana use is slightly higher among Minnesota female teens in 2022 as opposed 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 reverse from 2013 when marijuana use was higher among young men in 11th grade (22 percent of young women reported using marijuana at least once in the prior year compared to 28 percent of young men).