Is Minnesota an emerging COVID-19 hot spot in the U.S.? According to the Washington Post, Minnesota is among the states that are seeing case levels creep in the wrong direction.
"We really are on a journey right now with this virus, just as our friends in Europe are experiencing," said Osterholm, during an appearance on WCCO Radio Wednesday morning. "Unfortunately, we still have 50-55% of the U.S. population that are still susceptible to this virus, meaning they have not previously been infected nor have they had access to vaccine yet."
"This is what you and I have been talking about for weeks, and now, unfortunately, it's here," Osterholm said of the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly referred to as the U.K. variant because it was first discovered in Europe.
The B.1.1.7 variant has been cause for concern in Carver County, where case levels have been increasing due to an outbreak that the Minnesota Department of Health has connected to school sports. Carver County saw a 62% increase in cases from Feb. 24 to March 4.
Another COVID outbreak 60 miles north of the Twin Cities was identified this week at Pine City High School, which switched from in-person learning to distance learning after nine students tested positive and approximately 90 other students were advised to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.
Dr. David Hilden, of Hennepin Healthcare, told WCCO Radio on Wednesday the case increases in Minnesota are "scattered" throughout the state.
"We are starting to see just a slight uptick in the number of cases in Minnesota," said Hilden. "Hospitalizations and deaths do tend to lag case increases by a few weeks ... so it's a little bit concerning."
The slight increase comes as Minnesota's economic and social safety measures have been relaxed by Gov. Tim Walz. Bars and restaurants are open to 75% capacity, gyms can operate at 50% capacity and social gatherings are allowed more people from more households.
In April, sporting events like Twins, Wild and Timberwolves games will be allowed to host between 3,000 and 10,000 fans – capacity limits vary by indoor and outdoor venues and whether spectators are seated or not – while other large events can also increase attendance.
The relaxed restrictions are partially the result of Minnesota's vaccination progress. As of March 15, more than 1.2 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with another 746,000 people completing the vaccine series, according to state data.
People most vulnerable to COVID-19 are generally those who are age 65 and older. According to state data, 76.4% of Minnesota's 65+ population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, though only 22.9% of Minnesotans aged 50-64 have received a shot.
David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, told the Washington Post he doesn't think cases in potential emerging hot spots like Minnesota will reach the levels seen during the fall and early winter.
In late November, Minnesota reached a peak of 1,840 people hospitalized with COVID-19. As of March 16, the state reported 282 hospitalizations. Of those, 67 people were in ICU, which is six times fewer than the peak of 399 COVID patients in ICU on Dec. 1.
State health officials continue to urge Minnesotans to remain vigilant by wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home when sick.