Now is not the time for Douglas County residents and other rural, outstate communities to let their guard down against COVID-19.

Sadly, that seems to be the case, according to state and national health leaders. There’s even a name for it, “COVID fatigue” – a time when people get weary of wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and not being careful when getting together with family and friends.

But those kinds of action will only prolong the pandemic and put more people at risk.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, met with Gov. Tim Walz and health care officials last week. Birx said Minnesota has taken strong precautions to stave off the disease, but around the state, not all are abiding by the mandates. This sets the stage for the disease to spread much more easily across Minnesota.

“Throughout many of the places we have stopped in Minnesota between rural gas stations and urban areas, there is real attention to these mitigation efforts in the urban areas but there really does need to be an improvement in many of the rural areas,” Birx said. “This virus has gotten very much into rural areas, so rural areas have to pay as much attention to this virus as urban areas.”

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With fall nearly here and winter around the corner, this is a key time to amp up precautionary measures and battle back against the virus. That means wearing masks when meeting with family and friends or entering public spaces, washing hands often and staying at least six feet apart from those not in your household.

“I know that it’s difficult, I know that people are getting fatigued when it comes to COVID, but together we can make it through these next few months really protecting one another,” Birx said. “The community protects the community by stopping the spread of this virus community by community. It doesn’t spread by mosquitoes, it’s not running around. It happens between us, in human-to-human interaction.”

Although progress has been made in keeping the pandemic somewhat in check, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to grow. Statewide, the cumulative number of cases, as of Sept. 14, stands at 84,949 and 1,922 people have died from the virus in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Douglas County continues to pick up more cases. In just a month, the number has grown from 144 cases to 206, as of Sept. 14. Thankfully, the county’s death toll has stayed at one since Aug. 9.

Although the number of current, active cases in Douglas County may seem low at 25, those numbers could climb quickly. As has been the case in many communities, a large wedding or a big family gathering with little or no precautions can infect dozens of people. And remember, you can have the virus and spread it even if you are not experiencing the tell-tale symptoms such as fever, chills, coughing and difficulty breathing.

So fight off that COVID fatigue, keep battling the pandemic, practice the precautions that health experts continue to preach. Yes, it may be a small inconvenience, but the reward is great: A healthier community where people can say they played their part in taming a pandemic that has cut short too many lives.