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Covid vaccine, booster, still encouraged

FAIRMONT– While life has seemingly been back to ‘normal’ as of late in terms of gatherings and in-person school and work, the reality is that Covid-19 in still circulating locally in communities, in the state and throughout the country and world.

While Martin County was Minnesota’s first rural Covid hotspot, throughout the past two years of the pandemic it’s seen ‘peaks and valleys’– as Public Health Sanitarian, Tim Langer, once referred to it– in terms of case rates.

In January of this year, the county had actually seen the highest amount of cases since the start of the pandemic with more than 200 cases throughout the county. Over the past few months, that number has steadily been going down here and throughout most of the county. In fact, last month the federal mask mandate for airplanes was lifted.

However, the BA.2 sub-variant of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been persistent. This highly transmissible strain of the virus has proven to be once again causing case rates to go up.

“I think we’re clearly seeing a slow tend upward. It’s mostly the BA.2 variant. Roughly 62 percent of the sequent cases have been the BA.2 variant,” Langer said.

He said that’s the most prevalent variant in the country and in the state. Out East they’re seeing even a higher increase. He said while it’s hard to predict what will happen here, the trend is ticking upward.

“I think it’s definitely going to spread. The Omicron variant we’ve been dealing with to some extent can escape immunity from vaccines. We are going to have people who received a vaccine who may get the illness, but they’ll be protected from severe disease and death,” Langer said.

According to number provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, more than 70 percent of Minnesotans have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. However, just 56 percent of Martin County residents have.

As for tracking cases locally, staff at Human Services of Faribault and Martin County had once shared daily case numbers and trends, and then weekly updates. A few months ago the weekly updates stopped as well.

Langer said so many people are now using at-home test kits and those results aren’t recorded so it’s hard to have an accurate picture of just how many cases are circulating in the county. The numbers provided by the state and throughout the country are only cases that have been tracked through health care facilities.

While Langer said they know the virus is still out there, he said it’s not too late for people to get their vaccine, their first booster or even their second booster, which was approved by the FDA in late March. Right now certain age groups that have received their first booster are eligible for that.

Langer said there are several options locally for the booster shots, as well as for vaccines.

“That can be either through a health care provider in both Faribault and Martin counties. Human Services is also putting on vaccine clinics every other week in both counties,” Langer said.

At Faribault County this is done at UHD and for Martin County, people can visit the website at fmcs.com and sign up for whatever time works best.

“Each week we have folks coming in for their initial vaccine and for their boosters. It’s a little bit of everything. The message we want to get across is it’s not too late. You can still get vaccinated. These vaccines do prevent severe illness and death,” Langer said.

He again spoke of the unpredictability of the virus and shared that the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variant of the Omicron variant are taking off in South Africa. He said it’s a continuation of what’s been expected and that the virus will continue to change and present challenges every so often.

Langer also noted that soon more people will be outside enjoying the nice weather and while there’s less chance of the virus spreading in an outdoor setting, there are also graduations, weddings and other events that will be held inside, which will present an opportunity for the virus to spread.

“That’s the challenge moving forward,” Langer said.

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