Tighter restrictions being placed on Minnesotans is a looming possibility as COVID-19 has exploded in the past few weeks, and the top leaders at the state health department say ratcheting up the restrictions would be a good idea sooner than later.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director with the Minnesota Department of Health, joined MPR Radio's Kerri MIller for a full hour Monday morning.
During the show, a caller suggested that the state completely shut down for two weeks in mid-December, asking if that would curb the outbreak. Ehresmann said it's a good idea.
"I do think that the idea of closing down more activities is a good one because of the high level of spread that we're seeing," said Ehresmann. "It's a situation in which it's a great idea."
"I know that we've got to do something to change the trajectory of where we're at," she added. "Our healthcare systems are at the breaking point so we're going to have to think carefully about next steps and what we need to do. His idea is a good one, I'm just not sure if December 15th is soon enough."
Malcolm agreed, saying further restrictions are "very possible."
"Given the incredible acceleration in the trends that we've seen even since the governor's announcement last week, the numbers have just skyrocketed. We added 26,000 new cases just over the last three days," Malcolm said.
"The hospitalizations is a critical consideration in all of this. We know that hospitalizations lag by about two weeks, or possibly a little bit more than two weeks, behind the cases so the hospitalizations we're seeing today are based on cases that were one-third of what we're seeing today."
Minnesota was reporting an average of just over 2,500 cases per day in the final two weeks of October. Now the state has reported at least 7,000 new cases in four of the past five days. The results of 2,500 cases per day in late October has been an increase from 580 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide on Oct. 24 to a record 1,558 through Nov. 15, including 324 in intensive care.
"If that means that hospitalizations could increase by a factor of 2 or 3 in the next couple of weeks and we're already hearing from hospitals that because their staff are also getting sick...or out because they're on quarantine," Malcolm continued, "this is just snowballing on itself to such a degree that...it does lead us all to be concerned about how quickly all this is moving."
If the approximately 1,500 hospitalized doubles or triples within the next few weeks, it would mean anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 COVID-19 patients swamping the state's hospital system.
For the time being, Malcolm says Minnesotans would be wise to avoid gatherings of any kind.
"Gathering outside your immediate household is dangerous right now," said Malcolm. "We really encourage people not be be gathering in large numbers, or really even in small numbers, outside your immediate household in this next period of time."
Gov. Walz will address Minnesotans alongside frontline healthcare workers at 2 p.m. Monday. The governor hinted last week that further restrictions are likely, though a specific timeline for when he could announce them is unclear.
"We certainly have provided him with our concerns and the data that we are seeing," said Ehresmann.