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No matter the testing availability, Minnesotans urged to stay home

The message from state health officials is loud and clear.

The message from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Wednesday was loud and clear: stay home if you're sick. No ifs, ands, or buts about it – and stay home and follow community mitigation advice even if you're feeling fine. If possible, work from home. 

MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann has made it clear that slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota is largely in the hands of Minnesotans, and the pandemic needs to be taken seriously. 

"People are reacting at several different extremes on the spectrum. We have a number of people who are taking this very seriously ... but there are a number of people that think this is too much and overkill," Ehresmann said during Wednesday's conference call. 

"I would say to the individuals that think – 'Oh this is not a big deal' – this is unprecedented in our state and in our country and I would really admonish them to heed our request to stay home when you're sick and take this social distancing message very seriously." 

It's critical because there are limitations

The state's ability to keep the public informed about COVID-19 is limited by red tape and a lack of testing resources compared to other countries, like Singapore, which Minnesota health officials have modeled some of their prevention plans. 

"Clearly, other countries have different capabilities in how government operates and what limitations they can put on their citizens," Ehresmann said. "Singapore conducted contact investigations on all their positive cases for much longer than many areas did. We are working to ensure that we can continue to do that as well."

However, as the New York Times reports, extensive contact tracing is just a piece of Singapore's approach, which also includes giving the public "details of where patients live, work and play are released quickly online, allowing others to protect themselves."

In Minnesota, the only information given about confirmed COVID-19 patients is what county they reside in, and sometimes a patient's age is provided. The only time more detailed information has been released is when schools or businesses provide vague details.

For example, St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights confirmed a COVID-19 patient came into contact with a school. Other examples are Seward Co-op and MayDay Cafe, both in south Minneapolis, closing after an employee at each business tested positive for the virus.

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, there are 77 confirmed cases in Minnesota – and likely many more unconfirmed cases – while the entire country of Singapore, with a population nearly identical to Minnesota (5.6 million), has just 266 confirmed cases and zero deaths while dealing with the threat for longer. 

Here are the mitigation advantages Singapore has on Minnesota and the rest of America, per the New York Times:

  • Take temperatures of everyone who enters the country.
  • Testing more than 2,000 people per day, including all pneumonia patients.
  • Police help with extensive contact tracing to find out who infected patients contacted.
  • Mandatory quarantine of anyone who comes in close contact with a confirmed case (more than 5,000 people so far). 

In Minnesota, the MDH has tested 2,762 patients since March 1. In fact, because of what's been called a global shortage in testing supplies, the only people in Minnesota who can be tested right now are hospitalized patients, healthcare workers and people residing in "congregant situations" such as long-term care facilities.

It all leads back to the department of health's strong messaging Wednesday that curbing the spread of the virus is largely dependent on how seriously every Minnesotan takes social distancing, staying home when sick and avoiding large gatherings. 

"What happens next really depends to a large extent on the behavior of Minnesotans," Ehresmann said Tuesday, noting that the state's mandatory closures of numerous businesses will help keep people from congregating to a certain extent.

"Ultimately, it's Minnesotans themselves that need to comply with that and need to stay home if they're sick. That is what's going to make a difference in our ability to amp down the spread of COVID-19."

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