COVID-19 testing

Rice County has had two state testing sites in recent weeks, one in Northfield and another in Faribault. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

Another Steele County resident has died from COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to three, while the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Rice County was at 10 as of Wednesday.

The most recent COVID-19 death in Steele County was a man in his 80s. It’s unknown if he was in a long-term care facility, Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said, explaining that death investigations typically take a couple weeks. Steele County has also seen the largest uptick in COVID-19 cases since March this month, Caron said. Throughout October, the county has had anywhere between 50 to 65 new cases a week, with some days reaching 18 to 20 new cases within 24 hours, Caron says. As of Wednesday, there are a total of 787 reported positive cases in Steele County.

Regionally, central, northern and southern Minnesota have driven much of the recent increase in new cases while Hennepin and Ramsey counties show some of the slowest case growth in the state.

Newly reported cases are highest in western Minnesota. The data doesn’t explain why. However, cases are surging currently in the Dakotas. North Dakota has the country’s worst per-capita spread rate. North Dakota has had more new cases per capita than any other state over the past two weeks, according to the COVID Tracking Project. South Dakota, which ranks second in new cases per capita, broke its hospitalization record Tuesday for the third straight day.

Collectively, rural areas of Minnesota continue to report the most new COVID-19 cases.

“We are seeing more deaths in greater Minnesota because we are seeing more cases there,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said last week. “We will see more and more deaths from greater Minnesota because of the high caseload.”

Of the 10 deaths in Rice County, the average age is 68.5 years old. Two of those were inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault. Rice County had a total of 1,691 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday. At least 200 of those cases were inmates at the Faribault prison.

Caron said the largest group affected by the spread of COVID-19 in Steele County is residents from 20 to 50 years old.

“But we do have some children that have been testing under 18, too,” Caron said.

The uptick in Steele County is partly due to a few clusters, meaning there are more than three cases connected to one place such as a business or sports team, she said. Others are attributed to household cases, so the virus is spread to multiple people within a household. The rest is likely community spread and indicates that the county could have further community spread after this recent uptick.

Rice County’s cases can also be attributed to that.

“Early on we were seeing people who live close together — elbow to elbow — or work close together — elbow to elbow,” Purfeerst said during an Oct. 20 Rice County Board of Commissioners meeting. “We’ve seen some clusters with church events.”

Some of Steele County’s cases are due to testing asymptomatic residents who have close contact to a positive case, went to a community testing event or are about to undergo minor procedures or surgeries.

Rice County’s testing numbers are high because there have been two state testing sites in the county, one in Northfield and one in Faribault. Rice County has had a total of 44,471 tests as of Oct. 15. For comparison, Steele County had a total of 17,512 tests by Oct. 15.

Steele County’s positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has fluctuated, but remained under 5%, while Rice County’s positivity rate was 3.6% as of Oct. 15.

Minnesota Public Radio News reporters contributed to this report. Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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