BEMIDJI -- Cases of the coronavirus in Bemidji are going up, but the increase may be limited if the public adheres to precautions and recommendations.

In speaking with the Pioneer this week, Sanford Health Vice President Medical Officer Dr. David Wilcox said residents need to follow guidance from medical professionals that has been given since the pandemic began. This ranges from hand-washing to wearing a mask.

"We want people to do the things we've already asked them to do," Wilcox said. "To recognize that this is a real disease. That they need to wear a mask in public, wash their hands, and limit their social activities."

Wilcox said this doesn't mean eliminating all social activities, but it does mean being smarter about them.

"We need people to be responsible," Wilcox said. "I think it's important to think of others, have the mindset that even though I may not be sick, if I'm around other people, I may be a virus carrier."

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According to Wilcox, the recent influx of local cases in the area have mostly been young people.

"The majority of them have been in social interactions, they're doing activities, not wearing masks and spreading it in clusters, whether that be with roommates or friends," Wilcox said. "The danger there is bringing it home to their family members who may be older or more vulnerable."

If people are participating in social gatherings, or in the workplace, Wilcox said it's important to remember what exposure actually is.

"We have a lot of fear out there, and fear can lead to a lot of demand for testing that's not necessary," Wilcox said. "An example would be, 'I was at a bar last night and heard someone was positive, and I want a test.' Exposure by the CDC's definition, is 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone and without any type of protection, such as a mask. If I'm across the room with someone with COVID, I was not exposed."

This advice hinges on a person wearing face coverings, though.

"I think masking is really important for being out in public," Wilcox said. "Masking in the workplace is very important. Some workplaces for example do socially distance, but then you go to the break room, or maybe pass by them several times a day. That can add up to 15 minutes of time and can be considered an exposure."

More people began venturing out into the public in May and June as businesses were allowed to reopen after weeks of closure as part of Gov. Tim Walz's mitigation strategy.

Minnesota salons could reopen June 1, while bars and restaurants could also open on that date but with outdoor seating only. Then, bars and restaurants were able to reopen with indoor dining on June 10. All sorts of businesses had to operate at reduced capacity and with precautionary measures after reopening, though.

With the increase in possible exposure in the ensuing weeks, Wilcox said it's important to be responsible with testing, too.

"There's a fear factor, where a person learns they were exposed to someone, and in a hurry to get a test," Wilcox said. "If you were exposed, it takes several days, four or more, before you start showing that to have a positive test. So, testing immediately is potentially risky, because if you come back with a negative test, you may not be initially showing the virus, but you may eventually get sick."

Wilcox said the first thing to do after an exposure is to quarantine for a time first. This is also important to do after coming back from a high-risk area.

The number of tests available is one of the reasons to not rush, Wilcox said.

"Testing is a limited commodity, state-wide and Sanford-wide," Wilcox said. "With the uptick in cases, people without symptoms are wanting to get tested. We want to make sure we're testing the right people."

Wilcox also said it's no cost for a person to get a COVID-19 test. However, an antibody test is separate and it requires a prescription order. Additionally, if a person does have an appointment with a doctor and does have a test at that time, there is a charge for the visit. Local residents can call (218) 333-5000 and select prompt #2 for more information.

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