Another Olmsted County resident has died from the novel coronavirus, health officials announced Tuesday. The fatal case, a person in their 60s, brings the total deaths from the illness in the county to 10.
As restrictions to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus are eased, county health officials are keeping an eye on signs of potential outbreaks.
“I really can’t say we know what’s going to happen,” said Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health. “We need to really prepare for an increase of people out in the community and an increase in transmission.”
Currently, health officials can trace the origin of about 85 percent of 479 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Olmsted County.
“If that number drops, that means there are other clusters and outbreaks we don’t know about,” Briggs said.
He echoed statements by Gov. Tim Walz when he announced easing of a stay-at-home order and rolling back some and restrictions on businesses.
Briggs said the shutdown “bought time” for testing and treatment capacity to be built up. Before the orders were issued in mid-March, the county had little capacity to do disease contact tracing or testing for the virus.
“We really had to build that capacity,” Briggs said.
With more people trained to do contact tracing, health officials can more quickly respond to clusters of cases and address what a business or workplace can do to help prevent the spread of the virus. Briggs said the responses wouldn’t be punitive measures but an effort to help a business identify a risk and remove it.
Briggs said health officials will be watching for even a spike in demand for testing to see if there are concerns the virus is spreading more rapidly. Most often, the people who are tested are people showing possible symptoms for the illness and are referred to testing by a physician. A spike in demand could provide an early indicator of an increase in the illness even before the test results are confirmed.
Briggs said respiratory illnesses often don’t spread as quickly and widely during summer months, but added little is known about COVID-19 and how it spreads in various conditions.
With testing and tracing better established, the rest lies with people acting responsibly, Briggs said.
“It will be interesting to see in the next couple weeks whether we can do this successfully,” Briggs said.