COVID-19 Latest June 21

A hospital room with a negative air pressure setup sits ready for a COVID-19 patient at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul on March 26. The negative air pressure setup pulls air outdoors, rather than filtering back into the hospital. (Evan Frost/MPR News)

Minnesota officials on Monday reported four more deaths from COVID-19, putting the total at 1,384 since the pandemic began. That daily increase in deaths, however, was the lowest in more than two months.

While total current hospitalizations rose from Sunday, rolling averages continue to show a steady decline in hospitalizations over the past month.

The number of Minnesotans needing intensive care — a closely watched metric as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — continued to fall, and is it levels not seen since early May.

In south central Minnesota, Rice County has the most confirmed cases, now at 754, including four deaths. Blue Earth County is next with 227 confirmed and two deaths, while Steele County has 199 confirmed and two deaths. Le Sueur County has 62 confirmed and one death; Nicollet County 109 confirmed and 12 deaths; Waseca County 41 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 107 confirmed and seven deaths; Brown County 21 confirmed and two deaths; and Sibley County 29 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.

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 802 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.

Health officials held a COVID-19 testing push in Austin, Minn., over the weekend.

Nobles, in southwestern Minnesota, reported 1,632 confirmed cases Monday. About 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although there have only been a few additional cases recorded the past few days.

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 2,137 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 560 people have now tested positive in the county, the same as Sunday.

Cases have also climbed noticeably in Cottonwood County, home to a pork processing plant in Windom, and in Lyon County, around a turkey processor in Marshall.

Youth sports may resume soon

State health officials have announced that youth sports can resume in the coming weeks. Outdoor sports can return to games and scrimmages starting Wednesday, and indoor sports July 1 or later, under the Health Department’s recommended guidance.

  • Among the recommendations, the department calls on players to:
  • Avoid sharing individual water bottles, community snacks or towels
  • Try to use “dedicated personal equipment” such as bats, mitts and rackets
  • Find new ways to show sportsmanship, including “tip your hats instead of handshakes.”

While following the guidance can help reduce risk, “in the end everyone has to make their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to accept,” Malcolm said.

“Some families, especially those with members who face an elevated risk of severe illness, may choose not to participate. That is perfectly OK, and everyone needs to respect that decision when a family or a player makes it.”

Officials also said the Minnesota Department of Education is working with the Minnesota State High School League to develop activities and sports guidance for schools for the fall sports season.

Officials continue to implore Minnesotans to keep social distancing and wearing masks in public spaces. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

Outdoor, window visits allowed at long-term care facilities

Among those who’ve died in the pandemic, some 80 percent were residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities, and nearly all had underlying health problems.

Health officials last week issued guidance for outdoor visits at long-term care facilities, in addition to earlier guidelines on window visits.

Malcolm said while the coronavirus poses a health risk to residents, isolation is also a concern.

Visitors still must be screened for symptoms, and everyone has to wear masks and keep a minimum distance of 6 feet. Facilities are in charge of developing visitation hours and schedules, and they must have staff nearby and keep visitors from walking through facilities.

The state recommends those who want to visit residents, either through a window or outdoors, set up visits ahead of time through the facility.

Southern Minn newspaper group staff contributed to this article.

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