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'Exponential surge': Mayo doctor discusses rise in COVID-19 cases

Dr. Gregory Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, says the reason for a rising demand in COVID tests is due to an exponential surge in COVID-19.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota is dealing with an increasing demand for COVID-19 testing following the holiday season. 

Dr. Gregory Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, says the cause is an exponential surge in COVID-19 cases across the board.

"We've seen this movie four previous times, but what's different about this, is the lower risk of hospitalizations," said Poland. "Nothing new is happening that we didn't predict prior to the start of the holidays."

Tuesday, MDH reported 16,204 new positive tests over the three-day holiday weekend and health officials estimate that approximately 90% of positive COVID specimens in Minnesota are currently the omicron variant. 

The Minnesota Department of Health's Kris Ehresmann told KARE 11 that recent data may not paint a full picture due to at-home COVID-19 tests.

"I think one thing to keep in mind is that the case numbers that we report every day give us a general sense of trends, but there are increasing tests that are done at home, over the counter," said Ehresmann.

The U.S. recently topped a new record for daily COVID-19 cases.

"The number of people getting infected, we're now talking over a million a day, although there's a small percentage that may have severe disease, that smaller infection multiplied with millions, equals a massive surge," said Dr. Poland.

When it comes to a potential "peak" in omicron cases here in the U.S., health officials say it's too early to tell.

"Since we have no prognosis, we can look retrospectively backwards. And in South Africa, they appear to have reached their peak, and now a dramatic decrease in cases, but the republic of South Africa is a very different epidemiologic context," said Dr. Poland. "The immunization programs started much later than ours, hence the waning is not as profound as in the U.S., and because of that, South African individuals got infected and had preexisting immunity —  a very different complex than here — so it’s difficult to know what happens," said Dr. Poland.

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