Virus Outbreak Slaughterhouse Cities

In this Friday, May 1 photo, medical workers test a local resident at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Waterloo, Iowa. As testing has increased, Public Health directors in Rice and Steele counties say so have the number of confirmed cases. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Rice and Steele counties, like the state of Minnesota, have again seen a steep rise in COVID-19 cases.

In Minnesota, the total confirmed COVID-19 cases hit 9,365 Thursday, up 786 from Wednesday, the largest single-day jump in cases. It continues a string of days of accelerating case counts as testing for the virus intensifies. Steele County had 10 additional cases from Wednesday to Thursday, Rice had 19. Since Thursday, Rice County has had 36 more confirmed cases.

Steele County now has a total of 41 positive cases. The age range of cases is teens to those in their 70s. Rice’s numbers are higher, with 53 cases in all. The youngest is 12, according to Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst. The oldest is 89.

A Steele County business is experiencing a cluster of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a release from Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron. Public Health is working in partnership with Minnesota Department of Health, health care partners and the business to address the situation and to try to contain further spread.

Purfeerst attributes much of the jump to increased testing and guidelines that allow for those with less severe symptoms to be tested. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, she said.

Those affected are asked to isolate themselves for two weeks and until symptoms subside for 10 days, with no fever for three days. While most people are able to recover at home, those who are older or have underlying health conditions may require further medical assistance in a hospital.

While Purfeerst understands the urge to gather, she underscores the importance of taking precautions when going to the store or getting together with friends.

“We are social creatures,” she said. “We like to congregate. But we’re going to have to change our practices if we’re going to slow the spread.”

Both counties are seeing more cases in younger people, a change Purfeerst believes is a result of workplace screening. And while the virus tends to hit older people and those with pre-existing conditions harder, there’s no way to predict how individuals will react to the coronavirus.

“People can be asymptomatic and potentially spread the illness and not even know,” she said, making the case for taking precautions and using good judgment.

“We want people to exercise, to be out and about — of course, we have beautiful weather. You can get together and stay 6 feet apart.”

Stay safe

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.

There is much we do not know about this virus. However, there are things we can do to protect ourselves, our family members, our neighbors and our vulnerable populations. Do this by taking the following actions:

• Wear a cloth face mask when you are out in public; especially when out getting groceries, supplies or medications. The mask will not protect you but will protect others in case you are carrying the virus unknowingly.

• If you are currently carpooling to your work or other places, please consider other options. If you do not have any other options wear a cloth face mask for some protection.

• Practice social or physical distancing from others by keeping a distance of 6 feet between you and others out in public.

• If you have an underlying health condition or are an older adult, take precautions now. Consider limiting any visitors to your home. Consider asking others to assist you in getting the things you need, such as groceries or medications so that you do not have to go out where there are groups of people.

• Do not gather in groups. Find new ways to conduct your daily business. Make use of technology and use phones, FaceTime, Skype and other ways to communicate

• Stay home if you have cold or flu-like symptoms and avoid close contact with people who are sick. Try to separate other people in your household from any members that are sick.

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your sleeve, and then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or before eating. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

• Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces

• If you have symptoms of a respiratory disease (these include fever, coughing, muscle aches, sore throat, and headache), you should stay home for at least 10 days, and for three days with no fever and improvement of respiratory symptoms—whichever is longer. (Your fever should be gone for 3 days without using fever-reducing medicine.)

• Please seek healthcare for any other conditions you may have.

Hospitals and clinics in both counties are open and ready to help.

Minnesota Public Radio News staff contributed to this story.

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