Minnesota is seeing an acceleration of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a leading local epidemiologist warns the region and the nation could be in for a rough winter. 

The state Health Department says Minnesota is averaging more than a thousand cases each day this month. There’s also concern about a recent spike in novel coronavirus fatalities. 

Michael Osterholm – who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota – said based on a variety of trends, the public should brace for more troubling reports.

“I think we are about to enter the darkest days of the pandemic,” said Osterholm. “Not only here in Minnesota, but throughout the entire country. A combination of pandemic fatigue, pandemic anger, and then just the increased frequency of indoor air exposures.”

He said families might still be planning holiday gatherings, despite the risk of spreading the virus.

Osterholm, a regents professor in the university’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences, also noted some hospitals might not have enough specialized staff to treat patients in intensive care units. 

And he said he worries the production of Personal Protective Equipment won’t be enough to meet the rising demand.  

Hospitalizations from the virus also are trending upward in Minnesota. Osterholm said it isn’t enough just to have adequate bed capacity. He said there’s real concern about the staffing levels to produce better outcomes for critical patients. 

“The nursing staff that work in intensive care, the entire team,” said Osterholm, “from respiratory therapy across the board – all offer a very, very unique service to these patients that you can’t find just in any other physician or nurse.”

He said the nation could also see shortages of the medications used to treat COVID patients, as many are developed in other countries where the supply chain is being disrupted.

Public-health officials are also voicing concerns about “COVID fatigue” setting in, even among people who carefully followed safety guidelines early in the pandemic. 

For those hoping to break from isolation during the holidays and meet with family, Osterholm warned it’s almost impossible to avoid any risk, even if there’s an attempt to quarantine before the gathering. 

“If you have some family members that do and some that don’t,” said Osterholm, “the chances of the virus entering into that household becomes a huge risk.”

He said the state and nation won’t see real improvement until a safe and effective vaccine is available. 

This week, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary said vaccines won’t likely be available to the American public at large until April of next year.

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