Jeff Docken


When Deb Purfeerst stood before the Rice County Board of Commissioners a mere four weeks ago, Rice County had registered nine COVID-19 related deaths.

On Tuesday, that number was 25, with 10 of them coming in the last week. Since Purfeerst, Rice County’s Public Health director, last updated the board Oct. 20, the number of Rice County residents testing positive for the coronavirus has risen by 83% to 2,874.

From Friday through Monday, Rice County alone registered 401 cases. When the Department of Public Health gave its daily briefing at 11 a.m. Tuesday, it announced 80 more Rice County residents among its numbers, for a total of 2,954 positive cases. Rice County’s first case was reported March 18.

In all, MDH reported another 5,945 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease, another high count following three days with nearly 24,000 newly reported cases; 26 more Minnesotans were reported to have died.

“None of this is easy,” Gove. Tim Walz told reporters as he made clear that on Wednesday the state will announce plans to “pause” the current high school sports season and to curb winter youth sports.

He implored Minnesotans to do all they can to stem the disease’s spread.

The overall numbers continue to paint a troubling picture of a rapidly worsening outbreak in Minnesota not limited to just one region or demographic group, like earlier in the pandemic.

Hospitalizations shot up, with 343 new admissions. That’s more than the previous two days combined and nearly 20 percent higher than the previous daily record set last week.

Locally, Purfeerst said the increasing numbers show “widespread community spread” and later added that it’s clear the virus is “moving faster than (we) can control it.”

Weddings, family gatherings and other social events are the biggest contributor, she said, noting that while early on in the pandemic workplace outbreaks, family members who live in close quarters and a number of cases at the state prison in Faribault were the main culprit, contact tracing show those are no longer the main source.

Like the governor, Purfeerst implored residents to fight off COVID fatigue and continue to be vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing and staying home, especially for those feeling sick.

“We all have a part to play in this,” she said.

‘A challenging time’

The seven-day trend in hospital admissions is at a new high. Hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past two weeks, placing more pressure on the state’s already stressed hospital systems.

More than 1,600 people are in Minnesota hospitals now because of COVID-19, with more than 300 needing intensive care.

“It’s going to be a difficult four weeks,” Walz said as hospitals brace for waves of patients that will be coming soon.

Of the 236,949 confirmed or probable cases identified in the pandemic to date, about 79 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

The deaths reported Tuesday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,943. Among those who’ve died, about 68 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems. In Rice County, 10 people living in a long-term care facility have died, 13 lived in a private residence, 2 were Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault inmates.

Rice County Commissioner Jeff Docken spoke Tuesday morning of the challenges of continuing to follow health professionals’ recommendations over such a long period of time, but advocated for remaining vigilant. He shared the heartache of his 91-year-old mother who had to miss the funeral of a longtime friend, saying how difficult it was for her not to be able to say goodbye.

“It’s a challenging time,” he said, “and people don’t like to be told what to do. It’s hard work. But people are dying.”

Minnesota Public Radio News contributed to this report. Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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