MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Over the past day, we’ve had to make some changes to our lives.

Everything from cancelling events, to avoiding large crowds, to taking classes online. For some, it can seem like a lot.

Why are we being asked to take these measures? Infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Sannes says what we do now will help determine what happens in the future.

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“This is a virus that we are uniquely susceptible to right now. We have not seen this virus before,” Sannes said. “If you are exposed, the possibility of getting infected is actually quite high.”

Which is why even Gov. Tim Walz stood several feet from his cabinet members Thursday.

“I hope you see us modeling … social distancing,” Walz said.

So, how distant should we actually be from one another?

“Six feet is the number that we’re using,” Sannes said.

That’s how far droplets we sneeze or cough can generally go.

“At the population level, we need to limit the number of new infections that are out there so that our healthcare system can manage the folks who are unfortunate enough to get infected,” Sannes said.

Data shows 80% of people who are infected will get better with limited — if any — treatment. Twenty-percent will need extra care, and two-thirds of them will end up in the hospital.

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And it’s that 20% that Sannes says could exceed “the resources of a strapped healthcare system.”

Right now, less than 5% of intensive care unit beds are available in the Twin Cities, and that’s why you may have heard this term “flatten the curve.” Without measures like social distancing, washing hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick — cases peak quickly, stressing the system.

Hennepin Healthcare Medical Director Dr. John Hicks told reporters Thursday that is what’s currently happening in Italy.

“In Italy right now, if you’re older, and if you’re in your 60s, even if you’re healthy, you’re not getting critical care. You’re not getting a ventilator. I don’t want us to get to that point,” Hicks said.

But can we avoid that with social distancing?

“I think we can,” Sannes said. “It’s too early to say whether we’re being effective with that based on the number of cases in the United States.”

But, Sannes says it’s important we all work together to try.

Our experts encourage people to make sure they get outside over the next few weeks and go about their business.

Heather Brown