COVID-19 Latest June 25

Two signs posted on the door of HealthPartners's Stillwater Medical Group clinic in March. Health officials say they’re increasingly concerned that people with serious health problems who need emergency room care are not seeking that care and that parents are not keeping up with regular vaccinations for their children because of COVID-19 fears. (Mark Zdechlik/MPR News file)

State health officials on Wednesday reported eight more deaths from COVID-19, part of a two-week trend of days with deaths mostly in single digits. However, confirmed positive tests for the disease have risen noticeably the past few days, and the rate of positive tests is climbing.

The daily count of people requiring hospitalization (265) and those needing intensive care (122) remain relatively stable, with ICU cases staying around late-April levels. Those are two metrics closely watched by state officials as they work to manage the spread of the disease so it does not overwhelm the care system.

Wednesday’s report brings the total number of deaths in Minnesota to 1,485 since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota. But as the rate of deaths slows, positive test rates are now higher than they’ve been in a month as cases inch upward.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 859, including eight deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 510 confirmed and two deaths, while Steele County has 239 confirmed and one death. Le Sueur County has 110 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 176 confirmed and 12 deaths; Waseca County 71 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 132 confirmed and eight deaths; Brown County 37 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 55 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 — nearly 8,700 since the pandemic began. The median age for cases has been dipping and is now just under 39 years old.

The latest counts come a day after Winona became the latest Minnesota city to order a citywide mask mandate following similar ordinances in Rochester and Mankato.

The city mandates will require people to wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Minneapolis, St. Paul and Edina have also mandated mask-wearing in the cities’ public spaces.

Gov. Tim Walz last week said he is also concerned enough about a potential outbreak that he’s considering a statewide mask order. Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department support a statewide order. A decision from Walz could come this week.

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 965 confirmed cases as of Wednesday. 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 1,672 confirmed cases Wednesday, the same as Tuesday, 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 Wednesday, confirmed cases were at 2,429 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 Wednesday, the Health Department reported 582 people have now tested positive in the county. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases in late April.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Lyon County (327 cases), around a turkey processor in Marshall. Cases the past few weeks have also grown in Cottonwood County (137 cases), home to a pork processing plant in Windom, but the counts there have since stabilized.

Winona mayor orders mask-wearing in public

The city of Winona will implement a 30-day face-mask order starting this Friday.

The mayor's order requires people to wear masks inside public places or where social distancing is difficult.

"With Rochester's decision to move ahead with their order, we decided we would join in and have more of a regional approach to wearing face masks, face coverings,” said Steve Sarvi, Winona’s city manager. “We would certainly encourage other communities in our region, especially Onalaska and La Crosse to join in on our effort as well.”

The city and Winona County have seen a bump in COVID-19 cases over recent days. Winona County has 129 cases as of Tuesday.

Neighboring La Crosse County has seen a large spike in cases over the last few weeks. The Wisconsin county has 519 confirmed cases.

— Peter Cox | MPR News

Masks mandated inside state court facilities

Face coverings will be required for entry into a state court building beginning Monday.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea issued the mandate Tuesday that applies to everyone from attorneys to witnesses to judges. The face masks can be removed in a courtroom only with permission of a judge and if other precautions can be taken.

Courts around the state are gradually resuming in-person trials and other proceedings in criminal cases.

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Child care operations can tap federal aid

Minnesota child care facilities will be able to access new grants to help them stay afloat and operate safely as the coronavirus pandemic persists.

Gov. Tim Walz went to a St. Paul care center to draw attention to the $56.6 million in aid Tuesday that will be allotted using federal money.

Child care providers can qualify for three monthly awards. The amount they get will be based on a formula.“What these grants are meant to do is offset the added costs of the protections in these child care centers,” Walz said.

“Protections for the children, protections for the workers, the teachers and protections for our general society so we’re not using the little ones as spreaders.”

More than 6,600 home-based day cares and nearly 1,200 centers are eligible for grants. The Walz administration says 65,000 slots could be preserved.

Family providers can obtain up to $1,200 per month and licensed centers up to $8,500. They must have be a care center operating in good standing, have been open as of June 15 and can show revenue losses or increased costs due to COVID-19.

The money could offset costs of supplies, sanitizing and staff sick leave that are needed to prevent virus spread in child care centers.

A vibrant child care system is deemed essential to the state’s economic recovery. Parents could find it difficult to return to work full-time if they can’t find adequate care for young children.

Cisa Keller, senior vice president for Think Small, a group that focuses on early childhood education, said providers have had to navigate enrollment fluctuation and other challenges amid the pandemic.

“There’s also been efforts in trying to make sure that essential elements like gloves and masks and hand sanitizer are available to every provider across the state,” Keller said. “Those were really difficult things for child care providers to find. And so we continue to try to figure out how to make the biggest impact for child care providers.”

— Brian Bakst | MPR News

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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