Dr. Osterholm discusses COVID-19 with U of M President Joan Gabel

Joan Gabel joined infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm in a webinar. (University of Minnesota)

A prominent Minnesota doctor met virtually with University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel Wednesday, telling her that the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is in our control.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, joined Gabel to discuss the virus in a U of M webinar.

“Well, let me just say that these are the best of times and the worst of times,” said Osterholm.

He thinks these are the best of times because of the anticipated vaccine, but the worst because of the number of COVID-19 deaths surging across the country.

“I worry desperately over the course of the next five to 10 days when we watch what will happen with our new number of cases and hospitalizations following Thanksgiving,” he said. “We had many individuals who didn’t abide by the recommendations not to get together with others and we’re slinging shot into the Christmas holiday season.

Even then, Osterholm warns, the vaccine may not be the silver bullet everyone expects if people refuse to accept the shots.

The doctor said he has survey data showing 45 percent of people across the board are very skeptical of the safety of the vaccine. In some Black, Indigenous and communities of color, that number is as high as 75 percent.

The virus has changed every aspect of life at the University of Minnesota. The campus is nearly empty. Gabel believes, at some point, students and faculty will restore the campus community.

“So, I’m confident that when it’s safe to do so, we will return a version of campus life that will have a lot in common, perhaps not identical, but a lot in common with what we had before,” said Gabel.

Learning, working and teaching remotely hasn’t been easy, even for Dr. Osterholm.

“I can’t tell you how much I miss the people I work with,” he said. “I have not seen them since March. That’s hard.”

Even one of the nation’s top infectious disease doctors can’t wait for next year.

“You know, I can’t wait to wrestle with my grandkids either indoors or outdoors,” he added. “And I surely can’t wait to take them to a Twins game. That is going to be a very special day for me. I live for that day.”

He believes it’s going to happen, but he warns that nobody can afford to let their guard down in the coming weeks.