ROCHESTER, Minn. - Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House, met with state and local health officials at Rochester Community and Technical College to better understand Olmsted County's response to the pandemic.
During Dr. Deborah Brix's visit to Rochester, she explained the rate COVID-19 cases are rising in Minnesota. According to Dr. Birx, cases are rising at a rate higher than they were in the spring and summer. While Minnesota is currently the 19th state in the country for rising cases, the outbreak is intensifying in the cold states, daily hospital rates are increasing and soon, wearing a mask might be helpful even when people aren't in public. "We all have to play that part and that part includes us wearing masks. Masks with each other, masks when were in public, and potentially masks in our household if were choosing to visit with vulnerable individuals," explained Dr. Birx. She said that the outbreak is driven by our behaviors and that even when were in public places like restaurants. It's not just doing the basics of wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and sanitizing our hands, but also being vigilant of how far apart tables are and if servers are wearing masks as well.
Testing has also been an issue as not everyone is offered it. "It's not the number of tests performed," said Dr. Birx. "But who they are offered to." In Olmsted County, cases do continue to rise, but according to Public Health, it's nothing out of control. Across the state, there have been mobile testing units that offer free testing where outbreaks are occurring. In Rochester, health officials haven't felt the need to bring one here. Olmsted County Public Health Director, Graham Briggs said the county is staying fairly steady for the time being. "That's not to say that wouldn't happen here, but it is kind of a positive thing I think almost that we're not on that list for a reason," explained Briggs. "Because we've got testing ran and we don't have some big community wide or college based outbreak or something like that that's out of control.
Community spread continues to increase and a big part of that is due to people who are asymptomatic. In fact, in Olmsted County, about 20% of the tests that come back positive are from people who are showing no symptoms at all. "We have power, we can change our future, but it does take all of us," said Dr. Birx. "Even those of us who feel fine, even those of us who don't believe that the illness would be significant to us. We all have to play that part and that part really includes us wearing masks." It also includes routine testing. Dr. Birx stressed that early testing and testing everyone plays a major role in slowing community spread, even people not showing symptoms. She said setting up sentinel surveillance systems can be a solution to making sure everyone gets tested. What that means is monitoring the change in health levels among a certain population.
Briggs said setting up routine testing in areas with teachers and those working in long term care facilities is the next step. "If people start shedding the virus, whether they've got symptoms or not, if we're offering testing once a week and people take us up on that offer, then we detect those cases quickly, a little bit sooner and we've got a little bit better handle as to whatever that at risk population is," explained Briggs. "We can show that we're catching cases and making sure that we're not seeing transmission move on from those cases that we might otherwise miss."