A hard year just got harder on Wednesday as Gov. Tim Walz turned Minnesota's COVID control "dials" to more restrictive settings for the next four weeks. Those who care about their communities and their family will follow them, not flout them.

The new "pause," beginning Friday at 11:59 p.m., targets a broad range of activities, including youth sports, family gatherings, fitness center workouts, bowling, moviegoing and dining at restaurants (though takeout is still OK). Walz also urged Minnesotans not to travel and advised those arriving here from other states or countries to quarantine for 14 days.

The new measures are painful but vital, with Minnesota doctors and nurses pleading this week for changes to protect patients and ensure hospitals are adequately staffed.

"This isn't a drill. What we're seeing now is exponentially worse than what we saw last spring. Our health care system is strained and I think we are on the brink," said Dr. Katherine Janssen, a Twin Cities pulmonologist and critical care specialist who spoke this week at an event held by the "Our stories. Our health" advocacy group.

The pandemic is tearing with tornadic strength through Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and much of the nation. Of the top seven states for COVID cases per capita, five of them are Minnesota and its regional neighbors Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas, according to the New York Times COVID tracker.

North and South Dakota also lead the nation in COVID deaths per capita, ranking first and second respectively. Wisconsin isn't far behind, coming in fourth. Minnesota thankfully hasn't made this grim Top 10, at least not yet. But it did set a tragic record on Wednesday — 67 — for daily COVID deaths.

It has been a long road since March, when the threat of this virus was broadly understood. Everyone longs to return to normal. The economic and emotional fallout is also felt more keenly, yet Congress is failing to provide additional relief for hard-hit businesses such as bars and restaurants and their employees.

Minnesota families whose young athletes will be sidelined because of the new restrictions merit sympathy as well. To those mourning a lost season, one doctor suggests looking at this way: You're just switching teams. "Medicine has always been a team sport and right now, more than ever, the community is part of that team. We need you to stay home. We need you to not visit other people," said Dr. Rachel Gordon, a Duluth internist who also spoke at the "Our stories. Our health" group.

Like the virus that sparked the 1918 influenza outbreak, this new strain of coronavirus appears to have saved its worst for the waning months of its debut year. Now is the time to dig deep until the vaccine begins to roll out in 2021.

A critically important step is forgoing at-home gatherings with people from outside the household. Being around others indoors is high risk. The White House coronavirus task force has identified at-home gatherings as a key factor fueling the pandemic.

The new Minnesota measures will limit gatherings to one household. But for practical reasons, it's up to families to enforce this. Doing so is the responsible course of action.

Little has been easy or smooth in 2020. Additional sacrifice in the weeks ahead will save lives and ease the strain on medical providers until vaccines arrive. Dr. Andrew Olson, medical director for COVID-19 hospital medicine at M Health Fairview, said it well: "That's how we get out of this thing together."