Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says Minnesota is in a 'vulnerable' COVID-19 situation, 'next weeks are so critical'

Jan Malcolm is urging Minnesotans to comply with the mask order and other preemptive measures.

Remember how Minnesota health officials said it would take about three weeks to fully realize how much COVID-19 transmission would result from the large protests following the police-involved death of George Floyd?

The same lag time is expected before seeing how effective Minnesota's statewide mask mandate is. The order to wear masks in all indoor public spaces began Saturday, meaning it could be mid-August before anyone truly understands the impact masks will have made in the early stages. 

“Don’t be discouraged that our case numbers were large today,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), during a Monday COVID-19 media briefing. “The mandate only started Saturday. We expect it can take a full three weeks or more to see the impact of that."

Ehresmann said that daily case totals reported by MDH this week are reflective of spread that took place two weeks ago. On Monday, there were 650 new cases, marking the fifth straight day with at least that many. 

While case totals have been rising, so has the test positivity rate, which can serve as a valuable metric in determining how aggressively the virus is being transmitted. 

Minnesota's test positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average was at 4.55% on Monday, which is about where it's been for the past two-plus weeks after sitting in the 2.5-3.5% range for the better part of June and early July. 

Anything over 5% can indicate a worrisome trend, according to the World Health Organization. Kentucky, for example, has seen its test positivity rate rise from around 3% on the Fourth of July to upwards of 8% now, resulting in Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday ordering all bars close for the second time during the pandemic while also reducing capacity allowed in restaurants. 

“Compliance with the guidelines we’ve put out there is so critical right now. We feel like we are in a very vulnerable state,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Monday. “The trends of the last few weeks have made this analysis more challenging. These next weeks are so critical.”

Malcolm cited a recent Fox News poll that she says revealed 85% of Minnesotans have a "favorable view" of mask-wearing, while just 9% don't favor masks. She says complying with the mask requirement could prove critical in preventing Minnesota from seeing alarming disease transmission that other states have in recent weeks. 

"We certainly don't want Minnesota to experience the same catastrophic results of that very, very fast growth that we have seen in Florida, Texas and other states," she said. "We as citizens have a great deal of influence over whether that happens in Minnesota or not. We have it in our power to prevent that really rapid and uncontrolled spread by doing the right thing for each other."

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