If only the COVID skeptics had been right.
For months, we’ve heard millions of Americans, including residents right here in the North Country, scoff at the concerns over the impact of this new strain of coronavirus. Many suggested it was just a hoax and predicted that it would disappear from the television and the public discourse right after the election.
Those people were wrong, of course. Far from disappearing, as we’ve been reporting this month, the coronavirus is spreading explosively across the country, and few places more aggressively than in northern Minnesota.
Remember the spikes experienced in New York and Florida earlier this year, which jammed hospitals and led to thousands of deaths in those states? On a per-capita basis, the situation in Minnesota and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest is even worse. Next door in North Dakota, the situation is nothing short of astonishing. That state has been recording as many as 30 deaths daily, which may not sound like much until you consider its population. If the U.S. as a whole had a similar mortality rate, our national death toll would equal 12,000 per day.
That’s about four 9/11 attacks. Every day. We had lived under the illusion that, thanks to the remote nature of our region, we were largely immune from the pandemic. Turns out that was magical thinking.
And we may not be far behind North Dakota. The Cook area, which encompasses the 55723-zip code, has seen cases skyrocket, from seven cases a month ago to 35 cases as of the last weekly report from St. Louis County. Ely has jumped from an already-high 38 cases, to 57. Embarrass has spiked from 11 cases to 34, while cases in Tower have jumped from 18 to 34. The Orr area has nearly doubled as well, from 16 cases to 30.
What’s worse, 60 percent of these cases are considered by county health officials to be community spread, a rate that’s higher than elsewhere in Minnesota. Essentially, the virus is completely out of control in our region, putting all of us at risk.
But the implications of this current status go far beyond the public health concerns. As we’ve been reporting, area schools are increasingly having to shift to distance or hybrid learning as the case count rises. That puts pressure on the ability of parents to find, or afford, childcare on days when their kids are not in school. It puts increased pressure on public health officials to order the kind of business lockdowns that have already been implemented in many European countries with lower rates of infection than here.
None of us wants to see a return to the stay-home orders we experienced here last March and April. Yet the risk of COVID-19 infection is far higher here today than it was back then. However, if we, and that means all of us, don’t get a handle on this disease soon, that’s exactly what may happen.
We’re all suffering from COVID fatigue to be sure, but we’re going to have to keep up our efforts a while longer. That means continuing to follow the COVID-19 guidelines put out by state health officials, and not just when we head to work or to the store. Health officials increasingly point to social gatherings, even small ones, as the biggest source of community spread. Parties, weddings, funerals, even casual get-togethers with friends, are causing much of the community spread in our region. We need to postpone such gatherings whenever possible or, at a minimum, wear masks and observe social distancing. We know it’s a sacrifice, but it’s the kind that saves lives. Right now, an average of two dozen Minnesotans are dying every day. That’s not a North Dakota mortality rate, but our skyrocketing new caseload suggests that our death toll will only increase. If we reach North Dakota levels, that equals 200 dead Minnesotans every day. This is real, despite what your friend or crazy uncle might suggest. The coronavirus isn’t going away with the election. It’s only going to get worse unless we all get serious.