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Not The Flu, Not A Hoax, Not Time To Party

By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News
“It’s just the flu.” That is what some who believe Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has overreacted to COVID-19 disease think.

“If I get corona, I get corona,” a young woman on a Florida beach told the press. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” This is another attitude among many who are not in the vulnerable age group hit hard by the coronavirus.

And, there are a few who maintain that COVID-19 is a hoax, overblown by the media.

It’s not a hoax. It’s not the flu. And, those who say “let’s party” have little thought or worry about the impact of the disease on their parents, or grandparents, or those with underlying conditions that make them susceptible to the virus.

In just under one month, from April 21 to May 18, Minnesota saw more deaths from COVID-19 than in any full year from the influenza in the past six years. During the 2016-17 flu season, the worst year in recent record keeping, deaths from the flu virus in the state were 440, or 36.7 per month.

In less than two months, Minnesota has seen 722 deaths from COVID-19 – that is a pace of 361 a month, 10 times that of the worst year of the flu.

There were 61,000 deaths in the United States from the flu in 2017-18, or an average of 5,083 a month. Since the first U.S. death from COVID-19 was recorded in early February in California, America has seen over 91,000 deaths from the deadly coronavirus, a pace of nearly 26,000 per month.

This is not the flu. It is not a hoax. It’s not time to party.

Some have argued that the number of deaths occurring in the U.S. are not so different from other years. They haven’t looked very closely at the reporting. Statisticians have separated deaths in pre-COVID-19 years and compared them to total deaths being recorded today. In states where the coronavirus has hit particularly hard, the average number of deaths from all causes far exceeds average deaths in previous years.

In one way, however, COVID-19 and the flu are similar. In most influenza years, it is the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who are most susceptible to the virus. With COVID-19, the same is true. In Minnesota, 82 percent of the deaths are among those over 70.
Eighty-one percent are among those in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. This group represents only 14.7 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state. The age group from 20 to 49 accounts for 53.2 percent of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota but just 1 percent of the deaths.

Despite the attention the gun-toting camouflage-wearing crowd protesting at state capitols and threatening elected officials are getting, they represent a small percentage of Americans. By far the majority of citizens have been behind the efforts of their governors to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Aggressive measures by Gov. Walz mitigated what could have been a more tragic death toll. They have provided hospitals time to acquire the stockpiles of personal protective gear that will be needed to contend with a widespread outbreak of COVID-19. Without this grace period, our medical providers could have been wearing plastic garbage bags for protective gowns and washing, and rewashing, masks intended for one-time use – like some healthcare providers in states on the East Coast were forced to do to try stay safe.

Thank you to Minnesota’s citizens, workers and businesses who have been hurt badly by the stay-at-home orders and the social distancing required for slowing the spread of the coronavirus. This time has been invaluable to our hospitals, medical providers and our most vulnerable citizens.

Showing the respect, sacrifice and the thoughtfulness required to allow Minnesota to ramp up gave us time to prepare for what could be a new wave in a few weeks, or a far worse wave in the fall if combined with the seasonal flu. Our state and local hospitals have had time to make plans for a surge and for acquiring ventilators for treating the sickest COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 is not the flu. It is far more deadly. It spreads easily and one infected person has the potential to infect others long before they know they have it. Its deadly impact demands a smart, coordinated approach to reopening our economy and our communities. It demands that citizens continue to be smart about social distancing, washing their hands frequently, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, and wearing masks when needed.

If you don’t feel well, stay home. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 – shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat, fever, chills, muscle pain or lose your sense of taste and smell, call your local healthcare facility and get tested.

Let’s avoid another shutdown due to a resurgence of COVID-19. Let’s get Minnesota back to work by being smart.

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