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COVID-19 cases are the highest in months, but they're getting harder for scientists to track

"We sent a text and we sent a letter, but we didn’t hear back from them," says MDH about people who tested positive.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Health is reporting more than 3,700 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday – the highest since December 2020.  

MDH is also in charge of contacting every person who tests positive for COVID, but it's become increasingly hard to find them or they refuse to disclose any information about their diagnosis.

The follow-up is part of an investigative process that helps MDH pinpoint outbreaks and get people the information they need to stay safe, like whether to get tested or isolate.

Without that data, the COVID picture is incomplete, making it harder to stop the spread.

"We will call, we will text, we'll send you a letter, trying to contact you, making sure you have the info you need to protect yourself, to protect your loved ones," said MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff.

Except now, fewer people are responding to MDH's outreach.

In August of 2020, when there were nearly 21,000 cases, MDH never heard back from about 2,400 people or what's called lost to follow (LTF). 

In August of 2021, case numbers nearly doubled to about 40,000 and the LTF jumped to nearly 29,000, leaving scientists with little information about where the disease was originating and spreading. 

MDH Numbers: 2020 vs. 2021

Credit: Minnesota Department of Health

And there are further implications beyond able to identify outbreaks.

"We need folks to have access to good and accurate information around COVID," said Huff. "But the other thing is for folks, if they're infected, is to know to isolate so they don't spread the disease to others."

That's especially true he says when it comes to the infectious Delta variant. It's the reason Huff says why every Minnesota county is seeing high or substantial spread. And people are still dying.

MDH reported another 17 deaths on Friday.

"That takes an emotional toll, especially when we know those deaths did not need to happen," said Huff.

Huff says, if the amount of virus remains this high, MDH's recommendations for winter will remain the same as last year. He's asking people avoid large gatherings and mask up inside and outside.

All of which he says could be avoided, if more people continue to get vaccinated.

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