As of Wednesday, not quite a quarter of Minnesotans had been tested at least once for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That, in itself, is not an extremely useful thing to know.
People who got tested for the virus on Wednesday and received negative results can rest secure in the knowledge that they did not have the virus — on Wednesday. But by the time they got those results, their infection status would be anybody's guess.
It's maddening, perhaps literally. The stress people feel after eight months of isolation and other anti-pandemic measures is showing up in all sorts of predictable, but still surprising, ways. Have you noticed the prominent signs in stores advising customers that they must wear a mask to enter? Those stores are not merely being helpful; they're following guidance from the CDC on ways to curb workplace violence. And child abuse and other forms of domestic assault are feared to be increasing. Whether those fears are justified is hard to say, because social distancing may make it difficult for victims to reach out for help.
Here in Minnesota, health officials had embarked on a new testing initiative that they hoped would provide a clearer picture of where the virus is and where it's headed. Surveyors were going door-to-door in selected neighborhoods with offers of free testing.
But that critical work was halted Friday because of incidents in greater Minnesota in which residents tried to intimidate and shouted racial ethnic slurs at state and federal survey teams. That troubling turn of events reinforces the need for clear, repeated communication about public health efforts.
That's especially true in light of another disturbing report: that some people who appear to have COVID-19 symptoms are resisting getting tested. Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota's infectious disease director, said some people apparently fear having to go into prolonged isolation if they test positive. Among the concerns they cite is possible disruption to classes or sports events at school. As Ehresmann points out, the impulse to hide one's symptoms only raises the danger to everyone else, "and some of those people may be at high risk for complications" — including fatal ones.
Nestled among the data available on the Minnesota Health Department's website is this alarming fact: The groups with the highest numbers of confirmed cases all fall between the ages of 15 and 29. And those same age groups have among the very lowest numbers of deaths, just four among people in their 20s. None of those who died was a teenager.
The information is fragmentary; health officials continue to estimate that the number of confirmed cases badly understates the true prevalence of the disease. But why are so many younger people apparently getting COVID-19, while it's the older people who are dying from it?
We'll leave it to scientists to draw conclusions from the data they have and the further information they are working to collect. But we hope that state officials will make Ehresmann's warning as pointed as possible: An individual Minnesotan may feel that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is acceptable. The danger, though, lies not only in contracting the disease, but in spreading it. That's why it is so important to wear a mask.
If you have symptoms — like fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, sore throat, congestion or diarrhea — get tested. And if a state surveyor offers you a test, accept the offer, whether you have symptoms or not.
If we can help officials chart the course this disease is taking, maybe the road we're on will seem a bit shorter. It could hardly feel longer.