Minnesota is downshifting from daily to weekly COVID-19 reporting, starting Thursday, in a tacit sign of progress in the pandemic.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced the switch Tuesday on its situation page along with the discovery of 3,362 more coronavirus infections and eight COVID-19 deaths of seniors. The update, which raises Minnesota's COVID-19 death toll to 12,792, includes pandemic activity over the weekend.

The switch closes out a 27-month era in which concerned and curious Minnesotans closely monitored daily counts of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths and even created their own spreadsheets and charts to try to make sense of the trends.

COVID-19 still demands monitoring and prevention strategies but has reached a point at which it can be reported less frequently to the public as with seasonal influenza, said Kathy Como-Sabetti, the health department's COVID-19 epidemiology section manager.

"We know new variants can arise and this virus can surprise us, so we're still tracking and monitoring the data closely using all of the different metrics available to us," she said.

COVID-19 trends continued to improve in Minnesota, where the seven-day average of new infections has declined from a recent peak of 2,100 per day in mid-May to fewer than 1,400 per day since mid-June. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota declined from 482 on May 31 to 379 on Monday.

The reporting of breakthrough infections in vaccinated Minnesotans also will be moved from Mondays to Thursdays as part of the switch. Hospital capacity numbers in Minnesota are reported separately right now but will be moved to the new weekly state update.

Even daily reporting had offered only a sliver of the full COVID-19 picture in Minnesota. Positive test results always excluded people with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases who never sought testing. The rising popularity of at-home COVID-19 tests this year further reduced the share of positive results included in Minnesota's daily reports.

Minnesota has identified nearly 1.5 million people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but federal estimates indicate that the actual infection total might have surpassed 3.4 million in mid-February.

Sampling of wastewater to detect viral levels has emerged as a stable alternative for COVID-19 levels in the state. Sampling results will continue to be reported separately by the University of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council.

The latest U wastewater data through June 22 shows steady declines in viral loads in the Twin Cities and southeast Minnesota, but recent increases in other regions of the state.

Coronavirus variants had presented an elevated threat last fall and early winter to younger adults, particularly those who hadn't been vaccinated. However, the risk has shifted back toward seniors again. They made up 72% of the COVID-19 deaths over the past 12 months, but 88% of the 284 deaths reported since May 1.

Death rates have declined overall, and health officials believe that is partly because of less-severe variants as well as high immunity levels from recent infections and vaccinations. Minnesota at the peak of last winter's delta COVID-19 wave was reporting 39 deaths per day. The state is averaging four to five deaths per day in June.

Minnesota joins numerous states including Iowa and South Dakota in switching this summer to weekly reporting, while others such as Wisconsin maintain daily updates.

Como-Sabetti said people shouldn't become complacent over the lack of daily reporting, and should continue to use COVID-19 testing, vaccine and antiviral treatments to reduce their risks of severe illness.

"COVID-19 is not gone," she said, "and people still need to take steps to protect themselves and others."