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EDITORIAL: Facts over fear: Amid new hysteria, Covid data offers reassurance

Lead Summary

With the rise of the Delta variant and news that cases of Covid-19 are climbing back up after an early-summer swoon, it’s easy to feel a bit unsettled or even be thinking “here we go again.”
That’s especially true for those glued to TV news or their social media feeds.
For the better part of three weeks, news of Delta has dominated and one doesn’t need to look far to find reports of new or reinstated recommendations, restrictions and mandates.
Yet despite the doom-and-gloom in some circles and panic in others, the sky clearly isn’t falling, particularly in Minnesota and in our neck of the woods.
We’d all be best served by taking a deep breath, stepping back and taking a look not only at the data, but what’s changed in the last year, or even the last few months.
First and foremost the latest “surge” in cases of Covid-19 needs more context.
At its peak in November, Minnesota had more than 51,000 active cases of Covid-19. That number on Wednesday was a shade over 7,000.
While up significantly from earlier this summer, it’s best to remember that the number remains a whopping 86 percent over peak numbers, and still below the numbers seen in early-spring and another Covid wave.
It’s no different in our own St. Louis County, where over 6,000 new cases were reported in November compared to 255 in July. While we’re on pace in August to surpass those July totals, they’ll almost certainly remain far below what was reported even in April, when there were 1,477 cases in the county.
The seven-day average of new cases in St. Louis County tells a similar tale, with 238 cases a day reported during a peak seven-day period last fall, compared to 17 according to the most recent total on the county’s Covid dashboard.
That’s one reason why St. Louis County’s decision on Tuesday to require masks in its buildings is both baffling and a head-scratcher. On the day the state’s mask mandate was repealed last May, the county was averaging 24.4 new cases per day. On the day the county reinstated the mask rule this week the same number was 15.7.
Case numbers aside, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported more comforting news on Wednesday, noting that despite the recent growth in cases and hospitalizations, the average number of COVID deaths has been at or below two per day since July 6.
The newspaper reported that “Minnesota’s death toll in July is the lowest of any month since March 2020, but that is a preliminary total with some deaths yet to be reported.”
Perhaps the most notable distinction and difference between now and before is the prevalence, and effectiveness, of Covid-19 vaccinations.
More than 3.2 million Minnesotans have been vaccinated as of Wednesday.
In St. Louis County, that number is more than 116,000 or nearly 70 percent of those eligible. Among our vulnerable senior population, more than nine out of every 10 have been vaccinated.
The data also hammers home another point: those who have been vaccinated have little to no risk of becoming seriously ill.
A report posted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leading source for health related news, shows that “breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths are extremely rare events among those who are fully vaccinated.”
How rare? Hospitalization rates for fully vaccinated people ranged from effectively zero to 0.06 percent in a sampling of several states. Death rates were even lower.
Almost all cases, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred among people who are unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated.
Vaccines are readily available to anyone who wants one, age 12 and above, and health officials suggest it’s a matter of months before children under 12 will be eligible.
No matter the spin, and despite the recent rise of Delta, it’s obvious that we are in a much different and much better position than during the spring or at any time in 2020.
That’s why all of us, particularly government officials, would be prudent in stepping back before reinstating restrictions and mandates that are both unnecessary and unwise.
Not to mention unpopular.
State leaders have caught on and indicated they’ll only be issuing recommendations rather than requirements, particularly when it comes to public education.
Many schools across the state have taken the lead and will let parents decide what’s best for their children, shunning mask requirements in favor of optional policies.
Hibbing, Mt. Iron-Buhl and the neighboring St. Louis County schools have gone that route and Chisholm did Monday by way of a unanimous board vote. Sentiment at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ely schools’ safe learning advisory committee went in that direction as well, with administrators, staff and parents all endorsing recommendations rather than top-down mandates.
Covid-19 and the Delta variant are real, but so too is the data that shows significant progress has been made.
Those in government would be wise to take note, steer clear of panic and over-the-top restrictions and allow individuals and families to make their own decisions.

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