ROCHESTER, Minn. — On a day in which the state of Minnesota reported 22 deaths from COVID-19, Mayo Clinic officials described a continuing state of watchful waiting for case growth and hospitalizations in southeastern Minnesota.

According to Mayo Clinic infectious disease specialist Dr. Abinash Virk, breakthrough cases remain rare, are usually asymptomatic, with severe breakthrough infections being "extremely uncommon."

"We continue to recommend people to be a little cautious," Virk said, "to wear a mask in a crowded situation or indoors, and if someone is immuno-compromised, during all activities. And of course, those who are unvaccinated should be vaccinated."

While Mayo does have some patients with COVID-19 in the ICU, Virk said, the ICUs are not approaching levels of concern, nor is Mayo actively receiving transfer patients with COVID-19 from other institutions experiencing crowding elsewhere across the state or nation.

Virk said the vast majority of those who are hospitalized with COVID-19 at Mayo are unvaccinated, although she could not provide specifics. She said they are skewed somewhat younger than the age range treated during the largest wave last year.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The Clinic adds that it is busy planning for routine testing for three separate flu-like conditions as the weather becomes colder, influenza, RSV and the delta virus.

"All three have similar symptoms," Virk says.

"Obviously with COVID-19 you have loss of taste and smell, but not everyone will have those. People who get respiratory symptoms need to be aware they need to get tested, mask up, stay home, and avoid people. When we test we will automatically be testing for all three."

Earlier this week Mayo released its recommendation that cancer patients should seek booster doses, a reflection of the immune system challenges when receiving treatments for their conditions.

Virks says that the same mechanism guides their advice on the need for booster shots for those with auto-immune conditions.

While breakthrough infections may not be any more common in persons who are immuno-compromised, this changes if "the person is on immune compromising medications… including steroids," Virk said.

"The vaccine may not be as effective (for them) as it is in the general population."

Mayo's infectious disease specialist stressed that any concerns the public has about the safety of vaccines for COVID-19 do not stem from examples in the history of side effects for vaccines already widely taken.

"The side effects of all vaccines are within the first six weeks," she said. 'We don't see side effects years later, and there's nothing in this vaccine that suggests we would see side effects years later."

"I can only reassure the public. There's no way I can tell them nothing's ever going to happen. But based on what we know from other vaccines, they are going to be fine."

The clinician stressed that the health system has no guidance at this time on the idea of booster shots for all.