Public health officials warn Minnesota could see more novel coronavirus spikes in the coming weeks, if too many residents let their guard down. 

This comes as many state workers, including those behind the scenes, continue efforts to keep the state safe amid a host of challenges. 

Since the pandemic unfolded, Health Department epidemiologist Maureen Leeds has seen her unit transform from a small group conducting interviews, to a larger staff working remotely. 

Her team assesses and monitors health-care workers exposed to COVID-19. From adapting to new technology on the fly to keeping up with constant changes in guidelines, Leeds said the magnitude of the situation is being felt. 

“The interviewers are dealing with the same sort of sense of burnout that, you know, we’ve been doing this constantly since March,” said Leeds. “And the press of our other responsibilities is also starting to be felt more.”

Leeds, a member of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said they’re finding ways to overcome the obstacles. She credited staff from other divisions pitching in, although the department says money will soon run out for broader contact tracing work. 

It recently asked the Legislature for $35 million to hire more outside vendors.

Despite any relief efforts, Leeds said there’s still concern about the pace not slowing down, with the flu season right around the corner and the pandemic showing no signs of ending soon. 

“If we can decrease the instance of flu, then there hopefully will be less confusion with cases of COVID-19,” said Leeds. “But I can definitely see how that’s going to be a problem this fall.”

State health leaders say residents have largely adhered to guidelines in stores and other public places, but social gatherings have been more lax. 

They say that could keep Minnesota’s case activity on the rise as the cold season approaches — which could, in turn, place more stress on hospitals, and the state workers trying to put the brakes on new infections.

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