Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services launches surveys to assess impact of long COVID

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

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

The long-term consequences remain more of a mystery, including the percentage of those infected who ended up with post-COVID illness – also known as Long COVID.

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

“These people may even make a full recovery from their initial acute infections and then after a couple of weeks they have these new weird symptoms that keep getting worse,” Murray said during an online public webinar about the long COVID Wednesday.

The surveys 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 will survey people a month after their laboratory-confirmed infections.

“Long COVID is real and is having a tangible impact on Minnesotans’ ability to thrive,” said Jay Desai, manager of the Department of Health’s Chronic Diseases and Environmental Epidemiology Division.

The goal is to determine the prevalence of long COVID and the most common symptoms so that the state and healthcare providers can respond with the appropriate types of treatments and therapy options.

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

According to a University of Minnesota dashboard, sewage readings in sewage samples collected statewide through March 8 showed declining or stable levels of the coronavirus. Also in samples collected at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul last week, virus levels fell 43% after rising a week earlier.

Hospitals reported a lower COVID-19 burden, with 285 cases of the infectious disease occupying inpatient beds as of Tuesday. Among them were just 23 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, the lowest total since April 2022.

Deaths from COVID-19 have remained at about five to seven a day in Minnesota, after a brief spike in January of about 10 a day. Risks remain focused on seniors, who account for nearly 93% of the 442 COVID-19 deaths reported in Minnesota so far in 2023.

Murray said COVID remains a risk for a long time, even from the current coronavirus variants, which don’t cause as many severe cases of COVID-19 as previous variants. Long COVID is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as symptoms four or more weeks after an initial infection. Prevalence estimates vary widely between 5% and 30% in adults.

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

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