ROCHESTER, Minn. — Following a weekend that delivered 66 deaths and 24,000 cases of COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 16, used his bully pulpit to issue an uncensored appeal for residents to slow the spread of the virus before the state's hospitals become overwhelmed.
Predicating his remarks by noting that two vaccines have now shown remarkable preliminary results and could see an early roll-out in January, the governor presided over an unscripted press lecture, one in which he told a bitterly divided public to wear a mask, "if for no other reason than to stay healthy enough to vote me out in two years."
It was an occasion for state health officials to abandon all previously understated appeals, preferences and suggestions about the need to shrink holiday plans, and say the unthinkable out loud.
"You need to not gather on Thanksgiving with people outside your immediate family," Walz said. "We have got to get out of this."
State health officials on Monday even discouraged travel home on the part of college students, saying that 2020 was a one-of-a-kind "COVID year" and urging young adults to begin to "lay low" now if they plan to travel, then get tested a few days before travelling with only quarantine between a test and travel.
Walz opened this five-alarm media call with a naked appeal for unity, citing the approaching landmark of 3,000 deaths and a bottleneck of cases already diagnosed on a fixed path to filling ICU's, wards currently shuffling patients to take on sick travellers from across the state. According to ICU COVID nurses called up to speak of their experiences, some patients have even begun checking themselves out against medical advice, survivalist-style, to look for a hospital with an open ICU.
In something of a disconnect, state health commissioner Jan Malcolm called for a "pause" in school sports, inexplicably still undertaken, with state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann adding that 10% of cases at schools are linked to sports. Ehresmann said the health department has learned that 15 cases are known to be linked to high school soccer, 20 to basketball, 35 to football, 41 to volleyball, and 46 to hockey.
Every one of those cases leads to hundreds more.
"We need to fight the virus and not each other," Walz said. "If we continue to mask up, social distance and take mitigation steps we can turn that corner. We have done this for the better part of eight months, but now it really is here. These new cases are loaded in. If we somehow got to zero cases tomorrow, the pressure on the hospitals would still continue for another three to four weeks."
Calling the numbers "terrifying," Malcolm said the state recorded 8,700 new cases Saturday, 7,500 Sunday and 7,400 Monday, amidst 167,000 tests over three days.
"We really need people to reconsider and frankly not gather with other households over Thanksgiving," Malcolm reiterated. "With the dramatic increase in hospitalization last week, the ground is shifting beneath our feet."
"We certainly wish the state and country was in a place to get together, but we believe we are at a crisis point."
The state reported another 12 deaths on Monday, bringing the total lives lost to COVID-19 to 2,873.
There are now 1,559 Minnesotans in the hospital with COVID-19, up 336 from a week ago.
There are now 324 Minnesotans in the ICU for COVID-19, up 75 from one week ago.
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.