Local health officials say the first COVID-19 vaccines could be administered in Minnesota before the end of the year.
Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health, said the clinical trials for one vaccine have been completed.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Daily, it’s getting brighter and brighter.”
Briggs and other county health officials are reviewing mass vaccine plans. However, he said vaccinating most groups would take time, and precautions to prevent the spread of the virus will likely carry on well into next year.
In the meantime, they're monitoring more than 930 active cases in Olmsted County amid a spike in cases here and statewide. As of Monday, Olmsted County’s rolling seven-day average was at nearly 124 new cases per day. Another 159 cases were announced Thursday.
Briggs said he expects more hospitalizations and deaths in the coming weeks.
“The next couple of weeks are already written for us,” he said. “People who will be hospitalized have already been exposed.”
That inevitable increase in serious cases will further burden a health care system that is already overwhelmed.
New statewide restrictions to prevent the spread go into place Friday to help mitigate the strain on hospitals and health care workers.
In a statement regarding the restrictions, Mayo Clinic announced that about 2.7% of its staff — about 1,500 people — are now under COVID-related restrictions either from diagnoses of the virus or due to exposure to it. About 93% of those staff exposures were a result of community spread, according to the statement.
The jump in cases has also overwhelmed efforts to contact people who have been diagnosed with the illness to try to trace the origins of the infection and prevent further spread. As the county’s capacity for contact tracing was overwhelmed, staff launched a new online questionnaire for people who have been diagnosed to share their information and provide contact information for people they have had close contact with so health officials can contact them.
“It really does rely on the public helping us out,” Briggs said.
However, ideally, personal interviews are a more effective way to conduct contact tracing.
“We prefer to do in-depth interviews one-on-one,“ Briggs said, adding that it’s not only helpful for public health reasons, but also helps reassure people who have received the diagnosis and might have questions.
“People are scared, worried,” he said. "Reassuring them and making sure they know what resources are available to them is part of our job.”