SE MN leaders weigh in after Dr. Birx's warning to rural Minnesotans |

SE MN leaders weigh in after Dr. Birx's warning to rural Minnesotans

Miguel Octavio
Updated: August 31, 2020 11:23 PM
Created: August 31, 2020 10:57 PM

(ABC 6 News) - One of the White House's leading coronavirus experts said rural Minnesotans need to take the pandemic more seriously.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the federal response coordinator, dropped the warning to state leaders over the weekend. Local community leaders said we must stay vigilant if we want to prevent a surge in cases this fall. 

The virus can spread quickly in large cities but smaller towns are just as vulnerable. 

"It doesn't take as severe of an outbreak to have a negative consequence as it does in a major city," said Jason Baskin, Austin City Councilman. "I know it's hard... but ultimately we have members of our community, especially elderly members, where this is a real risk."

A lack of hospital beds, older populations, and the economic effects from the pandemic could hurt Greater Minnesota but southeast Minnesota may be the exception for one reason.

"We've been fortunate that Mayo is in our area, so testing-wise, it hasn't been a problem at all to get testing done versus other rural areas," said Sue Yost, Freeborn County public health director. 

Officials said higher testing, access to care from Mayo Clinic and support from major employers like Hormel are helping, but it still doesn't make communities immune.

Mower County still has one of the highest rate of cases per capita statewide at 294 cases per 10,000 people, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. 

But what hurts rural communities though could also be its strongest asset against the virus. 

"Unlike major cities, we know our neighbors. They're our friends, they're our family members, they're our grandparents," Baskin said. "You're a person. You're not a number and I think we all feel that responsibility."

Baskin also said it's tougher to police mandates and precautions in smaller areas, therefore it's important for people to play their part. 

Health officials also urge people to take a flu shot to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed this fall.

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