As Minnesota hurtles through the uncharted territory of alarming coronavirus spread, record hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, it’s time for a gut check.

Are we doing everything we can with the tools we have to stop the spread? Based on the pushback against basic public health recommendations, which led to escalating infection rates that set a new record of more than 7,000 new cases in one day and a positivity rate of 15 percent, it’s safe to say we are not.

We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Most importantly, to the loved ones of the more than 2,700 Minnesotans who have died from COVID-19, we are so very sorry. This is a price you should have never had to pay.

With deaths typically lagging a few weeks behind positivity rates, devastating days are ahead. Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota’s infections through the entire pandemic have come in the seven days leading up to Nov. 12.

We are also failing our children who desperately need to be in the classroom. Every day the list grows of school districts moving exclusively to distance learning as cases grow in the school communities and staffing thins. The residual effects of the decisions we make about schooling will be with us for a generation.

Last week Gov. Tim Walz announced new regulations for bars and restaurants along with phased restrictions on attendance at weddings and funerals. The state also recommends limiting in-home gatherings to 10 people from no more than three families. All have been cited as significant sources of coronavirus spread. If we don’t see swift improvement, expect a more severe turn of that dial.

All along the direction has been simple: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and stay home if you are sick.

According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mask wearing offers double-duty protection for people on both sides of the mask. The ship on the argument that masks don’t work has sailed.

Distancing is a tough ask. It’s not so hard to be mindful of your surroundings while navigating the aisles at the grocery store. But what happens when that distance is needed between you and the people you love? What about birthday parties, carpools and game nights, not to mention monumental events like weddings and funerals?

Public health officials report that smaller, informal gatherings are significant sources of coronavirus spread.

Personal responsibility is the only option here – like the governor said, the police won’t be going to anybody’s house on Thanksgiving. Saving lives should be top of mind when people are deciding how, and with whom, to gather right now.

The consequences of choosing not to wear a mask or keep your distance are real. Our hospitals are filling up fast, stretching health care workers to the brink. Even if there are enough beds, medical and support staff who are sick or in quarantine aren’t able to care for patients. This risk extends beyond those seriously ill with COVID-19. People with other illnesses and disease are not getting treated because of the pandemic, which can lead to death and disability.

It makes sense to stay home when you are sick. But hourly workers who have no option to do their jobs from home and may not have paid time off are left unable to pay for necessities like food or housing.

Our economic recovery hinges on suppressing the virus. Without people feeling safe we can’t get back to good business, no matter what the rules are.

There is light at the end of this tunnel.

Welcome news came in the last week when two U.S. drug companies reported two separate vaccines currently still in trial are 90-95 percent effective at preventing the coronavirus. Still, we’re months away from the earliest doses, which will first go to frontline health care workers and people most at risk of serious illness. Experts think the vaccine will be available for the general public sometime between spring and summer of next year.

The state of Minnesota has made great strides by increasing testing capacity, often with no cost or barrier, almost weekly to the point where 50,000 tests a day are being administered. By quickly and easily identifying positive cases, those people can isolate and stop the spread.

President-elect Joe Biden has assembled a coronavirus task force of the country’s top experts, including Minnesota’s Dr. Michael Osterholm, current director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. But we are months away from a coordinated national response, which has been woefully inadequate to date. Biden’s swift and focused attention is admirable, but it comes far too late for many Americans.

So many people have tried hard to do the right thing during the last eight months of the pandemic. Some of us slip up from time to time, getting too comfortable in a situation that seemed safe. With the level of community spread we’re seeing right now, those oversights could become deadlier.

We must not become habituated to the daily records Minnesota keeps setting in deaths, virus spread and hospitalizations. It is time to refocus our efforts – the choices we make during the next weeks and months will be the difference between whether someone we care about lives or dies.

— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. 

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