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Minnesota, Michigan have worst rate of new COVID infections in the country

One of the country's top infectious disease experts says some of Minnesota's county vaccination rates are still only in the 40% range.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota is now at the epicenter of yet another COVID-19 surge and it has health officials closely watching how it's spreading.

The Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Michael Osterholm, says other states are not far behind and that's causing even more concern.

"We have 22 states right now that have seen a 20% or more increase in cases in the last seven days," says Osterholm. "Unfortunately, the major challenge we continue to have is that of unvaccinated people."

He says, some counties still sit at vaccination rates far too low, some around 40%. Plus, there are major outbreaks at local schools. Osterholm says in the last two months, infections in children five to 11 was the fifth leading cause of death across the country.

"That's remarkable and it's scary and it's going to continue to get worse unless people understand that getting back to every day life because they want to doesn't mean they'll escape the virus," says Osterholm. "That's why I can't in any stronger terms say, please get vaccinated." 

The percentage of tests that are positive for COVID is around 10% in Minnesota, which is the state's threshold for "high risk".  It's fueling this latest surge that comes as families are considering once again to gather for the holidays.

Unlike last year, though, local health officials are not issuing a recommendation to stay home, forcing some people to make what might be unpopular decisions.

"It is one that is dividing families, it is dividing friends, it's dividing colleagues," said Osterholm. "Don't feel bullied into going to a family event just because others say you have to be there when there's going to be unvaccinated people at that event. Only you can empower yourself to say, I'm just not going to go there. This year, I'd rather choose being safe than being sorry." 

Osterholm says people who are overweight, have a compromised immune system or who are pregnant have a higher risk of serious disease if they get infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best way to minimize COVID risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated. Here are safer ways to celebrate the holidays from the CDC.

You can see an extended version of the above interview, here