“What I don’t think has sunk in yet, is this thing is going to be with us at least until we get really good therapeutics, or we get herd immunity, or we get a vaccine.” Those were …
“What I don’t think has sunk in yet, is this thing is going to be with us at least until we get really good therapeutics, or we get herd immunity, or we get a vaccine.” Those were the words of Gov. Tim Walz at a recent press briefing and they come at a time when those of us in northern Minnesota are increasingly at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we saw with last week’s fishing opener, Minnesotans are eager to escape the confines of home, where most of us have been holed up for nearly two months. With Memorial Day weekend approaching, it’s the start of summer and traffic into this area will only increase as the weather warms.
While that traffic is normally welcome for the revenue it provides to our local businesses, we need to understand that, this year, a certain percentage of our visitors will be bringing more than their wallets.
For the most part, up until now, our area has managed to avoid any serious effects from the COVID-19 outbreak. While St. Louis County has a sizable caseload, it’s mostly found in Duluth. Here in the North Country, we’ve experienced relatively few cases, but that’s likely to change.
Don’t be fooled by the leveling off of the growth in new cases nationally. Most of that change reflects the fact that the virulent spread in New York City has been reduced significantly in recent weeks. In many other states, including Minnesota, the rate of growth in new cases is actually increasing. In Minnesota, it has increased dramatically in the past two weeks, in part due to some major outbreaks centered on large meat processing facilities, as well as an increase in the amount of testing. Areas that attract large numbers of tourists are likely to be among the next hot zones for viral outbreaks. The North Country’s splendid isolation in March and April served us well, but we’re not so isolated any more as the traffic over last weekend’s fishing opener made clear.
We need to keep in mind that some of the more optimistic projections issued last month have proven to be inaccurate. As we reported at the time, one highly touted projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation had predicted in April that Minnesota’s caseload would peak on April 26 and that no more than 600 Minnesotans would likely die, as long as we followed appropriate guidelines. That projection has since been revised as Minnesota’s death toll has already surpassed 600 and state officials expect that number will top 1,000 by the end of May. And there’s little reason to expect that those numbers won’t continue to increase at a steady pace throughout the summer, particularly if Minnesotans begin to backslide on social distancing and the use of masks when in public. Anecdotally, it appears that is already happening with many residents of our area. That’s unfortunate, because we’re not heading into a safer season when it comes to COVID-19. We’re heading into the highest-risk period we’ve experienced to date.
Unfortunately, the appearance of the virus in our area won’t be apparent until people start getting sick— and, by then, it will have already spread widely. This isn’t the flu and there’s no evidence that it will fade away now that warmer weather has arrived. Public health experts say the threat from COVID-19 will continue until there’s a vaccine, and that could still be a year or more away. In the meantime, all of us here in the North Country need to ramp up our vigilance to head off the kind of outbreak we’re now seeing in many other states that escaped the worst of the first wave of this disease. We’re not out of the woods on this by any means and we all need to act accordingly.