COIVD-19 vaccine (copy) (copy)

Vials of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines sit on a table at United Family Medicine in St. Paul on Jan. 20. Experts overwhelmingly agree, the best way to stop the virus is vaccination. (Christine T. Nguyen/MPR News file)

Facing the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and resurgence of summer events, Le Sueur County suffered an escalating number of COVID-19 cases in the month of August. From just 34 cases in July, COVID infections soared to 174 in August. The level of infection is comparable to Le Sueur County’s summer surge last year, which produced 183 cases in August 2020.

The surge coincides with rising infections and hospitalizations statewide. Between Aug. 21-28, Minnesota was hit with an average 1,500 cases per day. In the same week, 70 people were hospitalized, including 20 sent to the ICU. Hospitalization rates are climbing, but are still below new admissions seen last spring.

Rising infections also resulted in the deaths of two Le Sueur County residents this August, along with increasing hospitalizations. COVID case numbers also show no signs of stopping. In the first week of August, Le Sueur County witnessed 35 cases, followed by 38 in the second week, 48 in the third week and 52 as the month ended.

“We’re concerned, because we still don’t have the data and we don’t know what happened with fair gatherings,” said Le Sueur County Public Health Director Megan Kirby. “I’m a little concerned about the State Fair and the transmissions there.”

Attendance at the State Fair so far this year was halved compared to the number of visitors in 2019, but the fair still drew in approximately 400,000 people across four days. The falling attendance has been linked to fears of exposure to the coronavirus.

August also saw a wide variety of local community events, including county fairs in Le Sueur, Nicollet and Sibley counties. However, there is no available data at this time to link community spread to any specific events.

“Our regional epidemiologists are tracking activity around local fairs, but since ours just happened, it’s too early to say if there’s a correlation yet,” said Kirby.

The spread of the virus comes at an especially poor time, as schools prepare to open their doors this fall. In Albert Lea Area Schools, the district reinstated its mask mandate just five days into the school year after 42 students tested positive for COVID-19 and 290 were quarantined due to exposure.

“With school coming up, we want to keep kids in the classrooms safe and healthy, and I just don’t want our cases to increase and affect that potentially,” said Kirby.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that more Minnesotans have substantial protection against the virus than this time last year. About 71% of Minnnesotans 16 and older statewide have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 62% of Le Sueur County residents 16 and up have taken the vaccine.

Vaccinations increased significantly in the past month. From March through July, the rate of new doses fell month-to-month in Le Sueur County, but for the first time since the spring, new doses bumped up from 745 in July to 1,128 in August. Many of these vaccinations were driven by 16- and 17-year-olds getting their first shot. Kirby also reported a significant turnout at local Pfizer vaccine clinics after the shot was approved by the FDA.

“This week, we did 22 new doses,” said Kirby on the week of Aug. 21-28. “That’s pretty good since they were all first-time doses.”

Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8575. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All Rights Reserved.

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