The state Health Department on Tuesday reported three more Minnesota deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,477 but continuing a two-week trend of days with deaths mostly in single digits.
Intensive care cases (121) remained relatively flat at late-April levels even as overall current hospitalizations (267) rose from Monday. Hospitalizations that do not require intensive care have trended up the past two days.
In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 848, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 494 confirmed and two deaths, while Steele County has 237 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 108 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 173 confirmed and 12 deaths; Waseca County 71 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 131 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 34 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 54 confirmed and two deaths.
Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the higher number of cases in that county 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 the Mankato area, including Blue Earth, Nicollet and Le Sueur counties, public officials reported a spike in cases among young people who recently patronized bars.
Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases — more than 8,400 since the pandemic began. The median age for cases has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old.
The newest counts come a day after Rochester and Mankato became the latest Minnesota cities to require mask-wearing in public indoor spaces. Rochester’s mandate takes effect on Wednesday; Mankato’s on Friday.
Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina have also mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces.
As for a statewide mask mandate, medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department said they are backing the measure and Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is also concerned enough about a potential outbreak that he’s considering a statewide mask order.
As state opens, virus surfaces in younger people
Young adults heading back into public indoor spaces have become a particular concern for state officials who continue to implore people to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautions when venturing outside home.
Health investigators last week probed new clusters of Minnesota cases focused around bars in Mankato and Minneapolis.
While young people with COVID-19 may not feel its worst effects, “this is an infectious disease, and they can spread it to people who may not do as well,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist, told reporters Monday.
Of the 39,133 confirmed since the pandemic began, about 88 percent of people infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, nearly all had underlying health problems.
Meatpacking hot spots remain
Many of the outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.
That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 952 confirmed cases as of Monday.
Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors. Both have been partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.
While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in the county but work in other counties where coronavirus is present.
Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,669 confirmed cases Monday with six deaths. About 1 in 13 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county since the pandemic began, although the count of new cases has slowed considerably in recent weeks.
Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut on April 20 but has since 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 — skyrocketed in May. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Monday, confirmed cases were at 2,371 with 19 deaths.
Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also dealing with a significant caseload more than two months after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Monday, the Health Department reported 573 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Sunday. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.
Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (316 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (136 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, but the counts there have stabilized.