Everyone is wondering how bad the coronavirus outbreak might get in Minnesota. While experts are confident the situation will worsen, the virus is new and every estimation is an educated guess that health professionals are taking very seriously.
A study from the Harvard Global Health Institute has published "best guess" data for how quickly Minnesota hospital beds could reach capacity under best- and worst-case scenarios of the coronavirus outbreak.
For the Minneapolis region, the study says a best-case scenario is for 20 percent of adults to get infected – a number that epidemiologists say is conservative – over an 18-month period. The more people that get infected over a shorter period of time obviously worsens the outcome, as shown in the graphs below.
Here is the section of the report specific to the Minneapolis market:
"As of 2018, Minneapolis, MN had 6,950 total hospital beds, of which about 65 percent were occupied, potentially leaving only 2,460 beds open for additional patients. The bed count includes 610 beds in intensive care units, according to data from the American Hospital Association and the American Hospital Directory. Intensive care units are best equipped to handle the most acute coronavirus cases.
"The Minneapolis, MN region has a population of about 3.4 million residents; 14 percent are over the age of 65. The experience in other countries has shown that elderly patients have significantly higher hospitalization and fatality rates from the coronavirus.
"In the moderate scenario, in which 40 percent of the adult population contracts the disease over 12 months, Minneapolis, MN would be among the regions that would need to expand capacity.
The study goes on to say that 8% of adults in the Minneapolis region would require hospital care in the moderate scenario (40% infected over 12 months), with a total of approximately 214,000 coronavirus cases.
It's data like this that is influencing decisions made at the Minnesota Department of Health, which on Tuesday restricted COVID-19 testing to healthcare workers, hospitalized patients and people living at long-term care facilities. Those are the most vulnerable groups, as evidenced by at least two of Minnesota's 77 confirmed COVID-19 cases being healthcare workers.
That said, modeling has limitations.
"There's a lot of modeling that's been done nationally and globally, and yes some of our experts have started to work on that," said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann. "The challenge with modeling is that the quality of your model is based on the quality of the assumptions put into it, and there's a lot that we don't know about COVID-19."
If they are accurate, is 20% really the best-case scenario?
A study from Imperial College shows that a "suppression" strategy could possibly slow the spread of the virus. The strategy resembles what Minnesota and states around the country are currently doing: social distancing, closing workplaces, schools, universities, places of amusement, and isolating people with symptoms.
In such a scenario, the death rate in America could peak in approximately three weeks and then gradually decline, the study says. The catch is that the virus could "quickly rebound" if suppression tactics are relaxed until a vaccine is created, which the study estimates could take 12-18 months.
In China, which exceeded 80,000 cases of COVID-19 but has since seen new cases decline, suppression strategies are being relaxed. What happens in China as life eventually returns to normal will "help inform strategies in other countries."
University of Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Michael Osterholm was a guest of Dan Barreiro's on KFAN earlier this week, and he doesn't think the virus will stay suppressed in China.
"They did basically suppress this infection," said Osterholm, adding that "many millions" of people will be going back into public spaces as they try to restart their economy. "As infectious as this virus is, we just don't see any way there numbers will stay suppressed."
Osterholm said the coronavirus "is going to touch every family in Minnesota."