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U of M infectious disease expert: Next 6 to 12 weeks could prove to be difficult in state's battle with COVID-19

Associated Press
Updated: October 16, 2020 10:19 PM
Created: October 16, 2020 09:57 PM

The United States is on track to break its daily COVID-19 infection record for the third time, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

At least 38 states are seeing infection rates rise, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both reported record numbers Friday.

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Minnesota saw the highest number of new cases in a single day ever, with nearly 2,300.

Record-high 2,297 new COVID-19 cases reported in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health is taking even a more serious tone on the pandemic.

"I'm very saddened and frankly deeply worried about today's numbers," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm, on the state-wide call Friday.

The testing positivity rate is at about 5.3%. That number is up from 5% the week before.

"In a sense, we are becoming a house on fire, just like our neighbors to the east, in Wisconsin, and our neighbors to the west, North and South Dakota. And I think the next six to 12 weeks will be particularly difficult," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm said the worst could still be ahead.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked how much of these numbers are coming from increased testing.

"The reason is, although we're doing more testing, the rate isn't dropping," said Osterholm. "If there were fewer cases, and you tested more, you'd see the rate drop precipitously. In fact, that it's staying stable and maybe even going up a little bit with more testing it's just saying there are that many more cases in our communities. So it's not a function of us testing in it of itself that's causing us to have more cases, they're really occurring."

'Very saddened but not surprised': Minnesota health officials on record number of positive cases, rise in hospitalizations

He said high levels of infection in colleges and universities, and strong transmission at private gatherings are largely to blame. As colder weather approaches and the comeback of sporting events and indoor dining, Osterholm believes those will add fuel to the fire.

MDH did not completely comment on whether or not this would mean the governor would dial back on some of the openings.

KSTP asked Osterholm if he believes these numbers mean the state might proceed with any restrictions, and if they would be warranted.

"You know, at this point, anything we can do to reduce transmission will surely help us in terms of reducing cases," said Osterholm. "It's just a matter of weeks right now before we're going to see hospitals throughout the state overrun with cases, intensive care units are not going to be able to provide adequate care. That's all coming. So anything we can do to reduce that by causing people not to transmit the virus to each other, in other words, don't be in close settings together, is going to be an important issue."

Osterholm said the pandemic has gotten worse since March, and it hasn't shown many signs of improvement. 

"Right now, we are entering the darkest days of the pandemic," said Osterholm.

But the DOH said not all hope is lost, and there is more everyone can do to prevent this from getting worse.

"We really need to take action now. You might think, 'I'm only one person. What difference does it make what I do?' But if everyone does their part we can really shift the course in a more positive direction for Minnesota."

KSTP reached out to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's office to ask if there are any plans to put restrictions in place. As of Friday night, their office has not responded.


(Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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