COVID-19’s toll in Minnesota continued its climb Monday as the state Health Department reported 10 more deaths, bringing the total to 1,050 since the outbreak began in early March.

The number of Minnesotans currently hospitalized (549) and the number needing intensive care (253) were down slightly from Sunday.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County had the most confirmed cases, as of Monday, at 462, including two deaths. Steele County was next with 160 confirmed and no deaths, while Blue Earth County had 142 confirmed and no deaths. Le Sueur County had 44 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 88 confirmed and 10 deaths; Waseca County 26 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 68 confirmed and three deaths; Brown County 16 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 16 confirmed and no deaths.

Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the recent spike in cases in the area can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, officials said.

In Nicollet County, the death toll is higher due to impact on the elderly community. At least one assisted living facility in the county reported a couple dozen cases, though it did not report the number of deaths from its facility.

The newest numbers came on the same day Gov. Tim Walz’s “stay safe” plan took effect — another loosening of coronavirus restrictions as Minnesota and health officials expect a spike in cases related to mass protests over the killing of George Floyd.

Among the changes kicking in Monday, restaurants and bars are allowed to serve a limited number of guests for outdoor service, with social distancing required, and personal services, like salons and tattoo shops, can reopen with up to 25 percent capacity.

If the loosened restrictions appear to cause a surge in cases, state leaders said they could tighten up once again.

Last week, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that while she understands the pain and anger people are feeling over Floyd’s killing and respects their desire to protest, she’s concerned that people gathering in the streets are at risk of getting the virus and transmitting it.

Officials continue to pay close attention to the daily intensive care counts, a key metric, as they work to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the state’s health care system.

Meatpacking hot spots remain

Many of the recent outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. By Sunday, there were 1,539 confirmed cases, although the numbers are rising at a much slower rate than in previous weeks.

The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — have skyrocketed.

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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