Deaths from COVID-19 continued to climb Monday, with the state Health Department reporting six more Minnesotans have died from the disease, pushing the total above 1,300 since the pandemic began.
That daily toll, however, was the smallest in two months, and other key measures also continued to suggest the pace of the disease may be plateauing.
The number of people currently hospitalized fell to 353 — about 40 percent lower than at the end of May — while the daily count of those needing intensive care remained at 186, stable from Sunday but still significantly below its late-May peak.
In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 694, including three deaths. Steele County is next with 175 confirmed and no deaths, while Blue Earth County has 163 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 52 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 95 confirmed and 11 deaths; Waseca County 33 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 94 confirmed and seven deaths; Brown County 19 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 25 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 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. All deaths in the county have been residents in their 80s or 90s.
The newest counts come as officials caution the situation could worsen if safety measures aren’t followed.
“The positive news is that many of our indicators are neutral or slightly positive,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Friday, adding that while it was cause for celebration, “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Ehresmann implored people to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.
Overall, more than 30,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. About 87 percent of those confirmed with the disease have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.
Among those who’ve died in the pandemic, some 80 percent were residents of 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 651 confirmed cases as of Monday.
That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.
Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.
At Hormel, officials said they anticipated that by early this week, they'd have 40 active cases among employees. They expect that an additional 39 people who've already tested positive will have recovered by then.
Quality Pork Producers has at least 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.
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 Mower County but who work in other counties where coronavirus is present.
In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,620 confirmed cases as of Monday, the same as Sunday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.
Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. 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 — 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 Sunday, confirmed cases were at 2,108 with 19 deaths.
Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.
As of Monday, the Health Department reported 546 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Sunday.
Early test results show a low positivity rate among Floyd protesters
Pop-up coronavirus testing sites around the Twin Cities have taken samples from more than 3,000 people who attended mass gatherings in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing.
State Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm says that the state has gotten about 1,300 test results back, and they show a 1.4 percent positivity rate.
Malcolm said people who don't have symptoms can get tested, and the tests are free.
"If you were involved in any of the mass gatherings — the protests, the vigils, the neighborhood cleanups, providing food, water, etc. — we really encourage you to get free testing at one of these community sites,” Malcolm said.
While that positivity rate is so far relatively low, health officials say it's too soon to tell if the protests will be the source of widespread community transmission.
Four sites were open on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and will be open those days in coming weeks as well.
The Holy Trinity Church on East Lake Street in Minneapolis
The Sabathani Community Center on East 38th Street in Minneapolis
The New Salem Baptist Church on Bryant Avenue North in Minneapolis
The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center on Lexington Parkway in St. Paul
— Catharine Richert | MPR News