With school in session, and with people spending more time indoors in large groups, we’re seeing an increase in cases of COVID-19 in southern Minnesota, including Martin County.

We’ve been here before when cases spiked in the spring, and we saw the evidence that social distancing and wearing masks works because we flattened the curve once before. We need you to continue to stay vigilant and take those precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

As a community, we are seeing large volumes of individuals who are ill and requesting testing. Through contact investigation and case tracing, local Public Health has identified significant community spread of the disease.

We are asking those who attended large gatherings throughout the month of September to monitor themselves for symptoms and stay home as much as possible for 14 days after the gatherings took place. If you experience any COVID-19 symptoms, including fever or dry cough, please contact your health care provider to request testing.

It’s true that increased testing will result in more positive cases identified, and that’s a good thing because those patients who test positive will be able to quarantine and prevent others from contracting the virus from them.

Even individuals who are asymptomatic can spread the virus to anyone they encounter, and research indicates many patients who are infected don’t exhibit symptoms. Increased testing can help identify more of these patients and prevent them from unknowingly spreading the disease to others.

Contrary to rumors, those with seasonal allergies will not test positive for COVID-19. A COVID-19 test will only identify the presence of the virus itself in the sample collected from patients. Those with allergies who aren’t sure if their symptoms may indicate a COVID-19 infection should talk to their primary care provider for guidance.

The bottom line is that until there’s a vaccine, we are not out of the woods. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which means it’s new in the world and people don’t have natural immunity to it. It spreads quickly, and it only takes one infected person to begin another outbreak.

We know it’s not easy to stay away from loved ones and friends and to avoid crowds at places and events we enjoy. But your actions helped slow the spread of the virus throughout the summer, and we plead with you to exercise caution moving forward.

Please continue to wear masks, stay 6 feet from other people, and stay home if you’re sick. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms, please follow the quarantine recommendations to avoid spreading the disease.

We will get through this difficult time. In the meantime, your health care providers are fully prepared to care for those infected with COVID-19. We ask that you help us do that by being safe and taking extra precautions to stay healthy.