Roseau County is known for being the birthplace of Polaris snowmobiles and its fierce competitors in the state’s high school hockey tournaments. It shares a border with Canada and has a population of 15,292, according to the U.S. census. However, when compared to Minnesota’s COVID-19 death toll of 15,373, it puts the state’s loss into painful perspective. The cumulative number of COVID deaths in the state slightly exceeds the total number of residents in the smallest four counties by population – Kittson, Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Traverse.
The pandemic has taken family, friends, and neighbors, with the mortality rate highest among older Minnesotans. While weekly deaths from COVID are at historic lows, the virus continues to circulate around the world, bringing the risk of viral variants that could cause more serious illness and death. Virologists have warned that there is a roughly 20% chance of another wave of illness and death similar to the omicron variant within the next two years.
Minnesota infectious-disease expert Mike Osterholm underscores that vigilance is needed and that it is akin to “sleeping with one eye open” when it comes to the virus. With the May 11 expiration of the federal public health emergency, there will be administrative changes and measures, such as demonstrating eligibility for medical assistance programs, which is required annually.
Minnesota has performed well in terms of its COVID death rate, with a provisional, age-adjusted rate of 222.3 per 100,000 population, currently ranking ninth best in the nation. However, there is considerable variation among states, with Hawaii and Vermont having the lowest rates and Mississippi and Oklahoma having the highest rates. This gap reflects entrenched poverty, inadequate access to medical care, overall poorer health metrics, and lower vaccination rates in some states.
With this gap in mind and virologists’ warnings, continued research into next-generation vaccines and treatments is necessary. While COVID may not simply go away, federal investment and innovation in medical arsenal is vital to ensure that no one is left vulnerable to the still-dangerous virus.