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MDH: 1/3 of people with COVID-19 refusing to help contact tracers

The estimate was provided Monday by a member of the state health department.

Cases and hospital numbers continue to increase in Minnesota as the COVID-19 situation intensifies this fall, and now state health leaders are essentially begging Minnesotans to assist them in helping slow the rapid spread. 

"Minnesota is in a bad spot due to rapid spread of COVID-19 and it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the Minnesota Department of Health. "It's up to all of us, all 5.5 million Minnesotans now determine whether we will be in the crisis of our neighboring states like Wisconsin or if we will collectively make the right decisions and slow down the spread."

Ehresmann said the health department is "sounding the alarm" because "we see ourselves going down that path" that Wisconsin currently is. For comparison, Minnesota has seen 3,000-plus new cases three of the past four days and the number of people with COVID-19 in the hospital has jumped from 616 Oct. 26 to 862 as of this writing. 

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has nearly 1,650 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and the number of new cases reported daily is averaging in excess of 4,460 over the past seven days, and has been above an average of 3,000 per day since mid-October. 

"With hospitalizations going up, so far our hospital capacity is holding up. But that can change quite quickly," said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

One of the trends the health department hopes to see change is the cooperation of people who've tested positive. Ehresmann said Monday that approximately 30-35% of people they reach through contact tracing are refusing to provide information about where they've been and who've they've exposed. 

"Across the state, we're increasingly concerned about people not wanting to share details with our case investigators with their recent interactions or activities. This makes it harder for us to get the word to potential high-risk contacts who may go on to get COVID and pass it along to others. This just accelerates the spread that we're seeing even more," said Ehresmann. 

"We desperately need all Minnesotans to help us. In addition to what we've talked about with masking, physical distancing, staying home when sick, avoiding large groups, we need all of us to provide key information to our case investigators so we can help protect your friends, your family and your community members," she added.

Malcolm noted that the task of contact tracing 3,000 cases per day is "daunting" as is, but the ability to warn others about a possible exposure is hampered not only by some people being unwilling to share information, but also because "so many people genuinely have no idea where they've gotten exposed." 

There are currently "at least" 500 staff members with the MDH working as contact tracers, according to Ehresmann. 

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