The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll locally, as a number of area counties reported new deaths over the last week.
In Le Sueur County, the third pandemic-related death was reported Sept 9. As of Sept. 14, the county had reported 430 total cases, including three deaths, 25 hospitalizations, and 408 recovered. There were no hospitalized cases as of the 14th, according to Le Sueur County Public Health.
Le Sueur County’s case rate 44.67 per 10,000 people during the window from Aug. 16-29. That was the second highest rate in the state, behind only Waseca County.
In Nicollet County, the 16th death was reported on Sept. 11. As of Sept. 14, the county had reported 479 total cases, including 16 deaths, 32 hospitalizations. There were at least three hospitalized cases as of the 14th. The county has not reported specific data on recoveries, but the large majority of the cases have recovered.
In nearby Waseca County, it’s been a difficult stretch.
For the two-week reporting period of Aug. 16-29, Waseca County’s rate climbed to 50.51 per 10,000 — the highest in the state. It was 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.
The county now has eight pandemic-related deaths after recording its first just one month ago.
As of Sept. 10, 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, meaning the majority have been at the Waseca site.
Blue Earth and Sibley counties have also reported new pandemic-related deaths in recent weeks.
Because of the pandemic’s impact locally (and statewide/nationwide), schools have started out with a new look in the area. All of St. Peter, Le Sueur-Henderson, Tri-City United and Cleveland have started the year in some form of hybrid learning.
LS-H and TCU both made last minute changes, switching elementary grades from in-person learning to hybrid learning. That’s because, when original plans were made, Le Sueur County’s case rate was below 20 persons per 10,000, but after jumping up above 40, the districts were forced to change, moving all grades (except kindergarten at TCU) to hybrid learning.
The hybrid learning model each of the local districts are using has students separating into two groups. One group comes in Mondays and Wednesdays, while the others come in Tuesdays and Thurdays. Fridays are being handled in a few ways, including having each group come in every other week or having only students who have required in-person classes come in.
Students are also wearing masks and being separated at desks at least 6 feet apart when in school.
Minnesota’s COVID-19 data continues to show some common themes of hope and concern. Cases are climbing, with 643 new confirmed infections in the Sept. 14 report. But the count of people currently in the hospital continues to decline.
After averaging about 300 cases daily in August, hospitalizations have trended down so far in September, falling to 233 Sept. 14, the lowest point in more than two months.
The subset of patients needing intensive care came in at 135, relatively stable over the past three weeks. The count of people in the hospital but not in an ICU fell below 100 for the first time since mid-April.
Current hospitalizations and ICU needs are two metrics closely watched by officials as they try to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system.
The newest numbers come after Minnesota recorded more than 1,600 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 22 more deaths over the weekend, although new caseloads have been trending down since a modest spike in late August.
Despite the generally positive trends, health officials have warned community spread with no precisely known origin is growing in Minnesota, driven by informal get-togethers, weddings and other social events where people are not wearing masks, socially distancing or taking other precautions to stem the disease.
Like their colleagues around the country, health authorities here are watching in the week ahead for any signs of a rise in infections tied to Labor Day weekend gatherings.
The Health Department Monday reported three more deaths, bringing Minnesota’s toll in the pandemic to 1,922 people. About 73 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities, most had prior health problems.
Of the 84,949 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota so far, about 92 percent have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated. Following a spike, Minnesota’s number of active, confirmed cases has fallen back to where it was in mid-August.
‘Third or fourth inning’ of the pandemic?
While the decline in the number of people hospitalized is welcome news, Minnesota officials continue to implore people to stay vigilant against the spread of the disease.
They expect cases to climb following the Labor Day holiday and have warned that Minnesota could face a one-two punch this fall and winter from COVID-19 and the typical flu season.
State health officials on Monday morning made it clear that Minnesota remains in the early stages of the pandemic. In baseball terms, they see Minnesota’s as less than half way through the game.
“We’re in the third or fourth inning” of COVID-19, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told MPR News Monday morning.
She and Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, acknowledged that public perceptions of the pandemic have shifted since the spring with people losing patience with the curbs on daily life and the calls for vigilance.
Malcolm signaled it was unlikely the state would go back to the level of restrictions seen in March when public support for “dramatic actions” was widespread. The public now, she said, wants the state to take “more measured and precise actions.”
She added, though, that Gov. Tim Walz will “do what he feels is necessary to keep a handle on this pandemic.”
Wisconsin sees surge of cases
COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin have risen by two-thirds in the past two weeks, to the state’s highest-recorded levels.
On Sunday, Wisconsin reported more than 1,550 new confirmed cases, a new record for the state. It’s also more cases than Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota or South Dakota have ever reported in a single day. Nor is it an outlier — Wisconsin’s number of new cases has been rising for two weeks, while its number of new tests has remained flat.
Adjusted for population, Wisconsin is averaging more than 200 new cases per million residents, twice as high as Minnesota. Though a record for Wisconsin, Iowa and both Dakotas saw significantly higher rates in late August. Since late August, Iowa and South Dakota have seen their cases fall, while North Dakota continues to report high numbers of new cases per capita.