‘Now is the time’: Walz, Osterholm urge Minnesotans to buckle down to stop COVID-19 spread

Friday, Gov. Tim Walz joined Minnesota health officials to talk about COVID-19 in the state and the newest restrictions that go into effect Friday night.

Walz, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, urged Minnesotans to take the pandemic seriously and follow health guidelines to get the surging virus back under control.

Walz noted it’s going to be a tough couple of months but said it’s imperative for Minnesotans to work to curb the spread of the virus so things don’t spiral further out of control. He added that we control our own destiny and can choose to get things back under control.

"If we’re going to beat this, now is the time," Walz said.

Malcolm noted that COVID-19 claimed the lives of more Minnesotans this week than any other week during the pandemic. Thursday was also the highest testing volume in Minnesota so far but cases are still outpacing testing growth, Malcolm said.

The state’s seven-day average positivity rate is up to 13.1%, up from 9.8% last week.

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Dr. Osterholm, who was named to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force recently, noted that he wasn’t speaking for the task force or president-elect on Friday but painted a grim picture for Minnesotans.

Dr. Osterholm said the next eight to 10 weeks "will define a great deal," and are extremely important. He added that if Minnesotans can hold out for a vaccine, which is growing closer each day, many lives can be saved. With that in mind, he asked Minnesotans to listen to what public health officials are saying and urged Minnesotans to do it for each other, not for themselves.

Walz added that saying there’s a light at the end of the tunnel isn’t wishful thinking anymore, officials are working hard and making good progress, both on the vaccine and on distribution plans. He said he knows Minnesotans are frustrated but urged them to stick to the plan and continue to follow health guidelines until a vaccine is ready.

Walz has repeatedly called out the federal government for not having a national COVID-19 strategy, and Dr. Osterholm on Friday echoed the governor, saying the country is being hurt in its battle against the pandemic by a lack of federal leadership. He added that he’s talked to four governors in the past day and is advocating for national support.

Walz announces new COVID-19 restrictions for gatherings, puts bar and restaurant curfew in place

With new restrictions set to go into effect Friday night, Dr. Osterholm and Walz talked about why those are necessary and where Minnesota’s data is going.

Dr. Osterholm said the next three weeks’ numbers are already "in the system" and will happen. What we do now controls what happens after that. He also highlighted health care workers’ challenges and the extreme hours they’re putting in, calling them heroes for what they’re doing. He said those health care workers need Minnesotans to make sacrifices and work harder to control the spread of the virus to help them.

Following up on Dr. Osterholm’s point, Walz urged Minnesotans to not get discouraged or upset with the state’s restrictions that go into effect Friday night after the high numbers MDH has reported and likely will continue to report in the coming weeks. Walz said it takes a few weeks for those efforts to show up in the data but it’s extremely important for the state to continue following the health guidelines and state rules.

"I need people to follow along to get us through this," Walz said.

Dr. Osterholm also talked about holidays and gatherings, advising Minnesotans to really consider whether the risk of exposing loved ones is worth it this year.

Dr. Osterholm said he’s heard from too many young people who’ve come home after attending an event and being exposed to COVID-19 and, after a few weeks or months, one of their family members dies. He advised Minnesotans to really think carefully about gathering loved ones this year and urged Minnesotans to think of this year as just a "COVID year" that needs to be different than traditional years.

He also talked about reality vs. ideal situations. He said people can want to, and try to, limit exposure to COVID-19 but the reality of the situation is that it can happen at any time or any place, which means it can then be spread to loved ones even when others think they’re negative.

MDH also announced it will go a step further in its contact tracing efforts beginning on Monday.

Malcolm said the state has had critical goals of contact tracing and investigating cases during the pandemic. In those efforts, MDH has called people who’ve tested positive and people who’ve been exposed to the virus to help Minnesotans isolate and quarantine, thereby protecting dozens of others.

Starting Monday, Malcolm said MDH will begin sending text messages to those who are positive or came into contact with an infected person in the hopes that more of those calls are answered and more people can quarantine to protect their neighbors.

"Reaching every single person by phone who needs information is a monumental task," Malcolm said. "Our staff and our partners in local public health and tribal health have done enormous work in this area, and will continue to do so. We ask all Minnesotans to do their part by answering the call, and we hope this text notification helps provide some notice and reassurance."

Malcolm added that the rate of increase recently has really set off alarms for health officials. She added that MDH officials projected that Minnesota could reach these numbers at some point but it’s happened far quicker than even they thought would happen.

MDH reports 46 deaths, second-highest COVID-19 death toll during pandemic, 5,552 new cases