While Hubbard County still has a relatively low number of cases, with 55 as of Monday’s report, it is surrounded by neighboring counties with higher counts. Beltrami County has 353 cases. Becker County has 229, Cass County 119 and Wadena County has 61.

Dr. Michele Thieman, a family medicine physician with Essentia Health, said that’s why it’s so important to follow mandates and guidelines from the CDC.

“We all have reasons to go to these neighboring counties,” she said. “People are going to Bemidji. People are going to Detroit Lakes. We’re in the middle of a much bigger pocket of coronavirus. People should be conscientious of the fact that we really need to be vigilant in spite of the fact that we are sick and tired of reading and hearing about it and just want to go out and see our friends. We’re in the middle of a situation where we need to think very carefully about the choices we make every day.”

Thieman said the severity of the disease varies widely from one person to another.

“What we’ve learned in the short time COVID-19 has been around is that some people fly through it and others have long-term side effects that we can’t fully understand – and worse can’t fully treat,” she said. “It’s a gamble to be cavalier and think if you get it then it’s no big deal because you’re young and healthy. You don’t know how you would respond to it. And what’s more important, you don’t know how everybody you’re in contact with will respond to it. It’s not just how COVID-19 will affect you, but how it might affect your grandfather, your neighbor kid who has really bad asthma or the lady who bags your groceries. To me that’s the most important part, how it might affect the people in your community if you’re not taking it seriously and doing what you can to protect yourself and others.”

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Community spread a key factor

According to Sept. 14 data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) website, out of the 84,393 cases reported in the state, community spread from a known or unknown source accounts for the majority of cases.

Thieman said that’s why following the guidelines from the MDH is so important. “There is good data behind these guidelines,” she said. “By wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently and keeping six feet between one another the rate of spread is less. We know that. The challenge is when people are either asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic don’t follow those guidelines and are putting the rest of us at risk. By choosing to not follow the mandates, specifically the mask mandate, they are putting other people in harm’s way.”

She said when not everyone follows the mask mandate it makes the mandate less effective. “The cloth mask I wear to the grocery store is not necessarily protecting me from other people,” she said. “I’m protecting other people from me because when I cough what comes out of my respiratory system is caught for the most part by that mask. But if I’m walking through the air of hundreds of other people if they’re not wearing a mask, their particles are potentially out there for me to inhale. By not following the mask mandate, people are increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

Precautions and symptoms

With schools back in session, Thieman said children are having more interactions, too.

“Washing hands and doing everything we’ve been talking about for the past six months, now is the time to really double down on that and be really vigilant about doing all of that,” she said. “It is also important for parents to wash their child’s face coverings regularly. And if your child isn’t feeling well, contact their doctor and determine if they should be evaluated by a virtual or in-person visit and possibly tested for COVID.”

The MDH COVID-19 decision tree for schools and child care programs identifies less common and more common symptoms.

“Parents should follow that,” she said. “We’re going to err on the side of extreme caution this year. We’ll probably order a significant number of COVID-19 tests because we want to identify those who have it so their contacts can quarantine appropriately.”

With younger children they are particularly concerned about a fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a new cough or one that is getting substantially worse and evidence of what looks like difficulty breathing.

“In infants, that’s retractions where you can kind of see their ribs,” she said. “Those are the three things you would really look for in a young child who can’t communicate with you how they’re feeling.”

Other symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19 are vomiting or diarrhea, a runny nose or nasal congestion. “If you see two of those less common symptoms the recommendation is to keep the child at home and strongly consider being evaluated,” she said.

Thieman said that with the change of seasons comes a greater risk of transmission.

“As the weather is getting colder we’re going to be spending more time indoors,” she said. “The rate of transmission of all viruses goes up significantly indoors. Ventilation isn’t as good as if we were outside on our back patio. Being aware of what happens when we move inside and how that changes how viruses affect us is important. The only tools we have to stay safe are the tools we’ve always had which are keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing a mask. And if you have symptoms of illness, stay home, period.”

Testing results and options

Thieman said at the main Essentia Clinic in Park Rapids they are doing 50 to 70 COVID-19 tests a day. “That number has slowly increased over the past six weeks,” she said.

The time it is taking to get test results back has improved significantly. “There was quite a backlog for a while, but now our turnaround time is averaging about 48 hours,” she said.

That means contact tracing can begin sooner. With flu season approaching, a new test is on the way to make determining the cause of illness easier.

“People might be wondering if they have the flu, COVID or something else we’re not testing for,” she said. “We will be doing a lot of simultaneous testing for COVID and influenza as well as RSV, which primarily affects children. What we’re hoping to have available sometime in November is a single testing process with one swab that we can use to run all three tests. People who test positive for influenza should stay home and isolate the same as people with COVID because the flu is also very contagious.”

As to when a COVID-19 vaccination may be available, Thieman said health care workers have no inside information.

“I don’t know anyone who has a timeline on that,” she said.