Why you should care about stopping the spread of COVID-19

A room of beds for patients.
Staff at Sanford Medical Center in Bemidji, Minn., have converted their acute rehab gym space into additional patient bed space.
Courtesy of Sanford Health file

COVID-19 infections are rising in nearly every part of Minnesota, and health experts are concerned that pattern will continue as people don’t follow the suggested and mandated safety measures.

Here are some of the reasons why it’s important to take stopping the spread of COVID-19 seriously, as told by Minnesota’s top health officials: Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann.

1) Hospitals are reaching a ‘breaking point’

In the next couple of weeks, hospitalizations may see an increase by a factor of two or three, said Malcolm. If this happens, hospitals may not have enough staff to treat patients because many hospital workers are contracting the virus out in the community, quarantining due to exposure or taking care of sick family members.  

Hospitals and state health departments communicate about their surgical and intensive care bed capacity and movement of patients around the state to different hospitals. 

Malcolm has said: “The public has to know it’s going to happen that more and more people may not be able to be hospitalized close to home.”

Plus, as COVID-19-related hospitalizations go up, hospitals still need to provide care for people who arrive for other reasons, like strokes, heart attacks and accidental injuries.

2) Even if you're not ‘at risk,’ you can get others very sick

In the last few months, the single largest group of cases has been young Minnesotans.

Many of these young people are asymptomatic and spreading the virus without any idea they are doing so.

Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to grandparents and other vulnerable populations.

3) A vaccine is still a ways away

Malcolm and Ehresmann said recent news about vaccine development is extremely encouraging, yet remain a bit skeptical.

“The one caveat I'll mention is that obviously, these were published in press releases, and so not peer reviewed journals,” said Ehresmann.

Once the vaccine is ready to be distributed, the state will receive a framework from the National Academy of Sciences about the vaccine distribution process.

Ehresmann said they are looking for FDA approval for vaccine distribution sometime in mid-December to January. After that there are still several steps to distributing the vaccine.

4) We still don’t know everything about the virus

Health officials say COVID-19 patients can still spread the virus two weeks after testing positive, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

However, there are patients who continuously test positive for a long time, yet are not infectious to other people at that point. Scientists still do not know everything about the virus.

The long-term impacts of the virus are not fully known. Some people who did not experience severe cases initially have reported lingering impacts to their health.

“There's also been research that's been done that looked at individuals who, again, had mild cases or perhaps asymptomatic cases that suggest that they may have had cardiac damage,” Ehresmann said.


COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

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