Finlay Marube, a medical lab scientist, administers a COVID-19 test Friday at the North Memorial Health Specialty Center testing site in Robbinsdale. (Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News)

COVID-19 case rates in three southern Minnesota counties have increased substantially, according to a Thursday report from the Minnesota Department of Health.

For the two-week reporting period of Aug. 16-29, Waseca County’s rate climbed to 50.51 per 10,000 residents — the highest in the state. It is the only county in the state with a rate greater than 50. The Minnesota Department of Health suggests that any county with a rate greater than 50 adopt a distance learning model for all students. Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school districts started the year with distance learning for middle and high school students. Waseca Public Schools has a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Waseca County recorded a 37.75 per 10,000 case rate in the previous two-week reporting period, which topped the state at that time.

Le Sueur County’s rate of 44.67 cases per 10,000 was the second highest in the state, a jump from 36.81 in the Aug. 9-22 report. Blue Earth County, home to Minnesota State University, Mankato, was fourth, with 44.33 cases per 10,000, a hike of more than 22 cases per 10,000 people in the two-week period.

Tri-City United schools, which has students in Rice and Le Sueur counties, moved to a hybrid model for all but kindergarten students even before the school year started.

The Department of Health recommends school districts in counties with rate of 30 to 50 people per 10,000 use a hybrid learning model for elementary schoolers and distance learner for older students.

Rice and Steele counties’ rates are far lower than their neighbors to the west. Steele’s rate was 16.63, a nearly 4-point increase from the prior report. Rice was at 18.40, a hike of slightly more than a point. Goodhue County’s rate was far lower, at 8.65 cases per 10,000 people. Its rate was unchanged from the prior two weeks.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases stands at 1,241 in Rice County and 488 in Steele. Eight Rice County residents have died from complications related to the virus, according the MDH, while Steele has recorded two deaths.

Waseca County recorded 12 new cases Thursday and two more deaths. The county has 358 lab confirmed cases and six total deaths. The two deaths recorded Thursday came at long-term care facilities. All but one of the deaths have come in congregate care living facilities.

Two of Rice County’s deaths were men incarcerated at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault.

The state Department of Corrections began testing all inmates in late May. According to the department website, of the 565 positive/presumed positive inmates, all but seven have reportedly recovered.

As of Thursday, the Federal Corrections Institution in Waseca reported 64 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and four among staff members — an increase of 13 from the day before. The facility houses 614 female inmates and 490 inmates have been tested, according to the Bureau of Prisons website. The BOP reports 70 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

The BOP receives test results within 10-15 minutes, it said in a press release. It updates case numbers daily on its website at 3 p.m. The BOP said it has expanded testing on asymptomatic inmates as well.

“All inmates who are positive for COVID-19 or symptomatic are isolated and provided medical care in accordance with CDC guidelines,” the BOP said in a press release. “Symptomatic inmates whose condition rises to the level of acute medical care will be transferred to a hospital setting; either at a local hospital, or at an institution’s hospital care unit, if they have one.”

Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook contributed to this report. Reach Sports Editor Nick Gerhardt at 507-835-5447 or follow him on Twitter @WCNSports. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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