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Minnesota health officials don't think downside of COVID-19 peak has arrived

We could be in a trough between a series of waves, Jan Malcolm said.
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In the first 236 days of the coronavirus pandemic in Minnesota the state health department reported more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 in a single day just three times. 

That period, between Mar. 6 and Oct. 28, saw a total of 139,444 cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in Minnesota. Since then, the state has reported an additional 143,472 cases for a grand total of 282,916 through Nov. 24. 

That's a 26-day sprint in the wrong direction with an average of 5,518 cases per day, including six days in the past two weeks with at least 7,000 cases. Cases appear to have leveled off since reaching a one-day record 8,689 cases on Nov. 14, but what does it mean?

"It's been 10 days now since we've had our highest ever case count," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

"We have seen our case numbers fluctuating from day-to-day. We would not consider that we have any sort of a reliable trend just yet," she said. "While we've been pleased to see somewhat lower case counts in some of the recent days, we think this might be another of those patterns that we've seen earlier in the epidemic – a series of waves, and possibly we are in a trough now between waves." 

Malcolm said health officials "do not necessarily think that what we are seeing in recent days represents the downside of a peak."

A "bright spot," however, is that Malcolm says the state's test positivity rate has declined week-over-week, going from 15.2% positive a week ago to 14.3% in the past seven days. The World Health Organization advised in May that anything over 5% positive indicates substantial community transmission of the virus. 

But even if the case counts are leveling off, the high numbers seen in recent weeks are resulting in escalating pressure on the state's hospitals as new cases are typically followed by hospitalizations and then deaths. 

"Even as we've seen some of our case counts a little bit lower in recent, that is not true of hospital admissions," said Malcolm. 

There were 1,828 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota through Nov. 23, including 379 people in intensive care. Those are high marks since the beginning of the pandemic, and it's 1,080 more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than there were at the start of November. 

Health officials continue to stress the importance of hunkering down during Gov. Tim Walz's executive order that bans social gatherings, inside and outside, with anyone outside of your immediate household. That includes Thanksgiving get-togethers. 

The governor's executive order is set to expire Dec. 18, at which point – barring an extension of the order – social gatherings would be allowed again. 

During the executive order, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms – cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, loss of taste or smell – should get tested. 

If you have mild symptoms, the preferred method for testing is ordering the at-home saliva kit, though facilities around the state remain available for in-person tests. If you have moderate or severe symptoms, you should avoid visiting a community testing site and instead call your doctor or go to a hospital. 

If you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should get tested no sooner than at least five days after the last time you were close to a person with COVID-19. Testing too soon can create a false negative. Regardless of the test result or symptoms, people who have been exposed are advised to quarantine for 14 days after the last contact with a person who had COVID-19. 

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