The 'darkest days' of the pandemic yet to come, expert warns

During a week that brought Minnesota its first taste of winter, there’s a forecast of another sort taking shape.

“I can see what’s coming in the weeks ahead and there’s no question we’re entering into the darkest days of the pandemic,” said Dr. Mike Osterholm, an epidemiologist and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Osterholm's warning comes on the same day Minnesota tied its single-day high for COVID-19 deaths. He's not mincing words.

“That may sound dramatic, but I know for a fact over the course of the next six to 12 weeks, we’re going to see the case numbers escalate dramatically in this country far beyond anything we’ve had to date,” he said. 

He says there are several reasons for that:

  • College students are back on campuses and unknowingly spreading it in the community
  • Pandemic fatigue, meaning some people are tired of a virus that’s not tired of them and it is being spread at social gatherings and in bars and restaurants
  • People who don’t believe the virus is real

“They're not going to comply with distancing requirements,” said Osterholm of those who believe the virus is fake. “They’re not going to wear a mask.”

There's also the concern of winter on the way with colder temperatures forcing people indoors.

“We’re going to have much more indoor air contact as opposed to outdoor air contact and we know that the virus transmission is greatly enhanced indoors,” he said.

While he understands it’s not a popular plan, Dr. Osterholm says the upcoming holidays won’t be a time to gather in-person.

“I think this is a time where as hard as it is, you gotta hear this, you gotta really think to yourself – do I want for one day’s worth of contact put the people I love most at risk of a serious disease and dying?” said Osterholm.

There is some hope though that he says will come with discipline in the days ahead.

“It’s still not too late,” he said. “We can protect ourselves, but it’s going to mean for several weeks really limiting contact with people to drive that number back down.”