Other’s opinion: COVID-19: College population can be proactive, prevent spread

Published 6:30 am Saturday, August 29, 2020

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The Free Press, Mankato

With Mankato’s population growing by some 16,000 to 20,000 students this week and next, and with secondary school beginning in two weeks, the risk for spreading COVID-19 remains high.

And there is a risk that cases will grow to the point of having to scale back in-person classes. Business will suffer, and restrictions on openings may be tightened if we ignore preventive measures.

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So, it’s worth reminding the arriving college population that wearing a mask, social distancing at least 6 feet in restaurants and bars and avoiding big outdoor parties with over 25 unrelated individuals will be key to keeping this college town vibrant and functioning. State health department guidelines call for a limit of 10 unrelated people at indoor social gatherings to reduce spread.

Mankato area COVID cases are on the rise, according to a report in The Free Press last week. For the week ended Aug. 21, cases were up in six of nine regional counties and up more than 10 percent for the region as a whole. The number of Blue Earth and Nicollet County cases has been on the rise for three weeks.

COVID-19 has been the biggest pandemic in recent history. Millions of people have lost jobs, businesses have seen double digit declines in revenues, and in Minnesota alone, nearly 1,800 people have died. Surrounding states including Iowa and South Dakota require almost no preventive measures and cases have spiked in those states just as students return to schools.

You will hear politicians, mostly Republicans in Minnesota, argue we can lift the emergency orders as our hospitals have capacity to handle a growth in cases. That’s little consolation to those who end up in ICU.

And health experts say they worry about the growing rate of “community spread” that spreading of the virus through community contacts like parties and gatherings. The latest figures showed 26 percent of cases were from unknown community spread, slightly better than the benchmark 30 percent or higher which suggests more rapid case growth.

The pandemic must be taken seriously. The Mankato region faces a big test in the coming weeks as the young population increases, carrying with it the highest rate of positive cases.

The Mankato region’s business, government and social institutions can only succeed in this environment if everyone employs simple low-cost prevention methods.