It's clear at this point that state health experts believe the novel coronavirus is spreading everywhere in Minnesota, but how long before the spike in both confirmed positives tests and cases that go undiagnosed slows to the point where we're successfully flattening the curve?
It's a question without a definitive answer. But community mitigation – business closures, social distancing, teleworking, washing hands – is believed to be helpful in slowing the spread, thus helping Minnesota "flatten the curve" during the pandemic.
Despite limited testing in Minnesota, the number of confirmed cases has been essentially doubling every 3-4 days. There were 35 cases March 15. That more than doubled to 77 by March 18, and 77 jumped all the way to 169 as of the latest date through 8 p.m., Saturday, March 21.
"I anticipate that we're going to continue seeing increase in cases, certainly as laboratory testing becomes available that will add to the number of cases that we're seeing," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
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If the rate of confirmed cases continues doubling every 3-4 days, there could be approximately 350 positive tests by midweek, and perhaps somewhere around 700 next weekend.
Those numbers are speculative, but it's the rate of spread that infectious disease specialist Michael Osterholm specifically discussed during his March 10 appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience.
"If you go from 2 to 4 to 8 to 16, it takes a while to build up. But when you start going from 500 to 1,000 and 2,000 to 4,000 – that's what we're seeing happen in places like Italy," Osterholm said.
No state in America has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which is also known as Sars-CoV-2) than New York, where the latest totals from Sunday show 15,168 confirmed cases. There were only 3,954 confirmed in New York on Thursday.
Nearly 20 million people live in New York compared to 5.7 million in Minnesota, and more tests are conducted on a daily basis in New York, thus the dramatic increase in confirmed cases over a very short period of time.
As Ehresmann said, once testing levels increase in Minnesota, the numbers are only bound to go up.
"We have a completely naive population, meaning that no one in our population has any history with this virus," said Ehresmann. "Theoretically, 100 percent of the population is susceptible.
"We're not going to see a reduction in cases until the virus has stopped circulating in Minnesota. Clearly, our goal is to make sure that because of our community mitigation efforts, that spread is slow and slower than it would have been without intervention, but we have an entirely susceptible population so we should expect to continue to see increases in cases."