If you're not going to listen to Dr. Michael Osterholm, you're probably not willing to listen to much credible information about the coronavirus.
Osterholm is one of the nation's leading epidemiologists, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. His is a voice national media from Fox News to the New York Times to everyman podcaster Joe Rogan have turned to for expertise.
Here is what Osterholm says about rural confidence that the coronavirus will not hit close to home.
"I just have to say right at the outset: It will hit every small town, every county, whether rural or urban or not. It will not be a blue or a red virus."
Blue and red refers to political affiliation, Democrat and Republican. That's Osterholm's diplomatic way of saying just because you don't live in New York City or Minneapolis, don't get too cocky.
He offers as evidence the state of Minnesota and its 87 counties. As of Friday afternoon, 68 counties had at least one confirmed case of the virus. Clay County, where Moorhead is located, had 29 cases to rank it ninth in terms of infections.
"This is going to get worse. This is going to get much, much worse. I think most people don't understand that," Osterholm said. "As such, what we're doing now is just the beginning of what will likely be a 16- to maybe 20-month period of time when we're all going to be dealing with this issue. It will be a real challenge."
If that seems like a sobering assessment heading into the Easter weekend, so be it. I lined up an interview with Osterholm with the idea of asking him about the challenges of having bordering states enacting different coronavirus policies.
Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesotans to shelter in place. Gov. Doug Burgum has refused to do that, instead piecing together a policy he believes better fits North Dakota. Gov. Kristi Noem is taking her own route in South Dakota, which appears to be far less coherent than Minnesota and North Dakota.
The differing policies and procedures have at times led to confusion and, given the lack of firm federal direction from the Trump administration, seem to pit one state against another.
Anybody want to have a discussion about Minnesotans traveling to South Dakota to fish walleyes or North Dakotans going to their lake cabins in Minnesota?
"One of the beauties of having a country like ours is that we have 50 states," Osterholm said. "One of the challenges we have today in public health is that we have 50 states and each governor can decide."
The 15-minute conversation turned out to be less about critiquing state-by-state response and more about how most of us aren't realizing that fighting this pandemic is a long-term operation.
Most of us are thinking about getting businesses cooking again so folks can get back to work. Or we're thinking about the fun stuff like the lake, the lawn, the garden, the golf course or the graduation party.
Osterholm isn't. His is the long view. In a world of hurry-up, this virus will be taking its damn time.
"We're going to be in this for the long haul, and I think that's what is most concerning. Most people don't have a sense of this could easily stay around for the next 16 to 18 months or until we get an effective vaccine, which I think is going to be at least 18 months away," Osterholm said.
(Listen to Mike McFeely's interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm in this podcast:)
That doesn't mean we can't start opening businesses and doing fun things much sooner than that. Osterholm says in Minnesota, the screws might begin being loosened in the next few weeks to a month. Walz's shelter-in-place order runs to May 4.
"Might" is the operative word there.
"I don't know," Osterholm admits.
Osterholm said the belief that fighting the virus is an either/or choice — that to slow the spread of the virus means we must destroy our economy — is false. We can move things back toward normal while suppressing the disease. We'll have no other choice.
"The economy is critical, we have to have a functioning society. That means we can't have these unemployment rates. They themselves cause serious health problems in terms of lack of access to care, in terms of mental health issues and suicides," Osterholm said. "We have a lot more we have to do. In that regard, we're trying to bring both worlds together — the world of prevention and the world of living our lives. I think we're going to ultimately find the right balance, and it shouldn't be one where it's a blue or a red issue.
"This should be us fighting the virus, that's what it should be about."
Big city or small town. Urban or rural. Minnesota or North Dakota. The goal is the same. Even if it sometimes seems like we're living in different worlds.