Gov. Tim Walz has urged Minnesotans not to abandon basic preventative measures for minimizing the risk of COVID-19 as the state enters what he described as a "critical juncture" in the fight against the virus.
With cases, hospitalizations and deaths having been on the rise again during October, the governor is warning that the state faces a "long, dark winter" if the state suddenly starts seeing the exponential growth in cases seen in the likes of Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
While acknowledging that "COVID fatigue is real," he appealed to Minnesotans to continue taking the basic steps to avoid greater transmission of the virus: staying home if you're ill, wearing face masks, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, re-thinking smaller family gatherings, and to get tested even at the slightest chance you've been exposed.
Testing, he says, is the key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, and it's particularly vital to identify the asymptomatic carriers of the virus who may be unknowingly infecting others, with community transmission – where the source of a person's infection is unknown – now accounting for 78% of new cases in Minnesota in October
Walz's comments come after he met with Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House adviser on COVID-19, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Saturday.
"We're at a critical point in our COVID fight," Walz said. "Testing is the key to stopping this virus spread. Dr. Birx could not have been clearer that the Upper Midwest is at a critical juncture, and her assessment was that Minnesota still possesses the capacity to stop what's happening in surrounding states.
"I've been saying since March we knew in for long, dark winter, and I said in August potential for fall comeback is great if not able to do certain things right.
"We know what we can do to slow the spread ... we can't overwhelm our hospitals, we can't assume therapeutics will take care of it, or that a vaccine will come, so we're going to have to ask ... avoid large gatherings, think about them even with family that may seem safe, wear a mask, social distance, and test test test.
"We have the capacity to write a different story for Minnesota, but it's going to take all of us."
Minnesota has been ramping up its testing capacity and in the coming months will roll out a statewide saliva testing service that will allow people to request and return tests via the mail. When that is fully rolled out, the state will have the capacity to process more than 60,000 tests a day.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that case growth and hospitalizations are growing fastest in western Minnesota, where she says there is "more resistance" to avoiding large gatherings, social distancing and masking.
Both Walz and Malcolm said that Minnesota is below the national average when it comes to mask wearing, though it's not clear what data this is based on.
And Kris Ehresmann, the MDH director of infectious diseases, said: "It's worth emphasizing the point that social gatherings, small and large, are really what's contributing this spread.
"To be clear, there is a lower risk with smaller groups, but that doesn't mean there's no risk. Things that may have been relatively safe a month or two ago may no longer be safe."
You can find MDH's service to determine whether you need a test or not here.