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Osterholm: Walz's latest restrictions could slow COVID-19 'maybe a little bit'

Osterholm believes much stricter mandates are needed to slow the pandemic.

Two days after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced new restrictions on bars, restaurants and limits on social gatherings, the University of Minnesota's top infectious disease expert says he's not sure the executive actions will put much of a dent in the state's growing COVID-19 crisis. 

Asked on his podcast, the Osterholm Update, if the measures will be effective, Osterholm responded: "I actually am not sure it will. Maybe it'll cut it down a little bit." 

Walz's executive order mandates bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m., while also limiting the number of people who can gather at social events like weddings, funerals and get-togethers at family homes. 

"At this point, I don't see anything that's going to have a major impact on this pandemic curve in the United States," said Osterholm, predicting that the country will soon be looking at 200,000 new cases per day "that will clearly overwhelm our healthcare systems." 

Minnesota's ICU wards around the state were treating 580 COVID-19 patients as recently as Oct. 24, but that number has since more than doubled to 1,329 as of Nov. 11. 

The dramatic increase comes after Minnesota began reporting more than 2,000 to 4,000 new cases per day in the final third of October. Since then, the state has routinely reported more than 5,000 cases per day, including a record 7,228 on Thursday. 

Osterholm, who is encouraging people to stay home and "do not swap air with anyone," said the best way to attack the virus without disrupting the economy long term is for a nationwide lockdown for 4-6 weeks. 

"I do believe that if we're going to one, save lives and two, actually have less economic disruption, we are going to have to take much more extreme measures," he said. 

Osterholm called the lockdown Minnesota had in the spring a "soft-soft lockdown" compared to what he thinks is needed now to save lives. After 4-6 weeks of a hard lockdown, Osterholm believes the country could "reopen back up to the extent that we can keep transmission down" for 6-8 months so "we can get to vaccine." 

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He also said money could be borrowed from the federal reserve to keep families and business afloat during the hard lockdown. 

“We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that,” he told Yahoo Finance. “If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks.”

Osterholm said he has not yet made such a recommendation to President-elect Joe Biden, who appointed Osterholm to his 120-member COVID-19 advisory board. 

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