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There is no worse place to be in the country right now than Minnesota when it comes to high levels of COVID-19 transmission. 

Joining WCCO Radio's Paul Douglas Monday morning, renowned University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm said Minnesota is currently in a "very dark" place in regards to the pandemic. 

"Right now in Minnesota we happen to be, unfortunately, in the worst place to be in the country right now. We have the highest incidence of COVID of any state in the country right now," Osterholm said. 

"Sixty-seven cases per 100,000 population today here. New Mexico's at 65, Colorado's at 62. So while they have gotten more attention, the situation in Minnesota right now is actually very dark, with regard to COVID." 

Osterholm's comments line up closely with the latest national report (from Nov. 14) from the New York Times, which has Minnesota leading the nation at 67 cases per 100,000 people. New Mexico is second worst at 64 per 100,000. 

Minnesota's case rate per 100,000 has more than doubled in the past two weeks, increasing by 54%. The hottest spots in Minnesota, based on the New York Times' case count per 100,000 people, are Wadena, Dodge, Mille Lacs and Kanabec counties. 

Those four aforementioned counties are ranked among the 10 highest county case rates in the country. Of the 100 highest county case rates nationally, 20 are from Minnesota, per the New York Times. 

  • 3. Wadena: 164 cases per 100,000 
  • 8. Dodge: 126 cases 
  • 9. Mille Lacs: 126 cases
  • 10. Goodhue: 124 cases
  • 16. Kanabec: 116 cases 
  • 22. Douglas: 112 cases 
  • 27. Itasca: 106 cases
  • 30. Pope: 105 cases 
  • 41. Hubbard: 99 cases
  • 44. Todd: 98 cases 
  • 45. Beltrami: 97 cases 
  • 50. Benton: 95 cases
  • 61. Wright: 91 cases 
  • 64. Kandiyohi: 91 cases 
  • 65. Meeker: 90 cases 
  • 68. Sherburne: 90 cases 
  • 70. Clay: 90 cases 
  • 71. Isanti: 89 cases 
  • 84. Morrison: 87 cases 
  • 97. Otter Tail: 85 cases

The majority of the counties listed above are among the counties with the lowest vaccination rates (based on residents having at least one dose) in the state.

Here's where the 20 counties with the worst COVID rates right now currently rank in Minnesota in terms of their total vaccination rate (includes ineligible under 5s) out of 87 counties.

  • Wadena - 85th out of 87 counties (43.2% vaccinated)
  • Dodge - 23rd (58.9% vaccinated)
  • Mille Lacs - 84th (45% vaccinated)
  • Goodhue - 15th (61.9% vaccinated)
  • Kanabec - 83rd (45% vaccinated)
  • Douglas - 33rd (55.8% vaccinated)
  • Itasca - 38th (54.9% vaccinated)
  • Pope - 53rd (53.7% vaccinated)
  • Hubbard - 59th (52.6% vaccinated)
  • Todd - 86th (42.3% vaccinated)
  • Beltrami - 35th (55.2% vaccinated)
  • Benton - 78th (47.9% vaccinated)
  • Wright - 54th (53.6% vaccinated)
  • Kandiyohi - 61st (52.1% vaccinated)
  • Meeker - 79th (46.8% vaccinated)
  • Sherburne - 77th (48.8% vaccinated)
  • Clay - 43rd (54.4% vaccinated)
  • Isanti - 80th (46.2% vaccinated)
  • Morrison - 82nd (45.2% vaccinated)
  • Otter Tail - 51st (53.8% vaccinated)

Nine of the 11 counties with the lowest vaccination rates are on the list of the 100 highest county case rates in the entire country. None of the 14 Minnesota counties with the highest vaccination rates (which includes the whole 7-county Twin Cities) are on that list.

"This is a challenge. We still have large segments of the Minnesota population, for example, that are unvaccinated. We have counties in the 40% level of vaccination. We still have a lot of kids that have not been vaccinated," Osterholm continued, "so there's still a tremendous amount of human wood out there for this coronavirus forest fire to burn."

Breakthrough cases are happening, though Osterholm notes that while vaccinated people can still get COVID, they are "much less like to become seriously ill and die than those who are unvaccinated."

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Osterholm also notes that someone who has previously had COVID-19 is less likely to get infected again compared to an unvaccinated person who has never had COVID due to the level of natural immunity they have acquired.

However, recent CDC study found that being vaccinated provides more robust and consistent protection against infection than relying on natural immunity from a past infection, and is urging all eligible Americans who have not had their shots to get vaccinated, even if they've had COVID before.

According to the CDC, unvaccinated people are 6 times more likely to become infected with coronavirus and 12 times more likely to die than vaccinated individuals. 

The Minnesota Department of Health says that based on Minnesota data, the unvaccinated are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized and 19 times more likely to die than the vaccinated. 

"If you are unvaccinated or you have not had natural infection and then therefore developed immunity from that, this virus will eventually find you," Osterholm warned. "It will find you. You can't run the game clock out on this. And unfortunately today we have our ICUs in the state ... filled with people with regret who wish they had gotten vaccinated, who are now literally in a life-threatening situation."

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