Virus Outbreak-Boosters

U.S. regulators have opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all and more adults, Friday, Nov. 19, letting them choose another dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

With COVID cases again on the rise and a Thursday holiday that's synonymous with being close, Deb Purfeerst is again asking residents to remain cautious.

"I think everybody was hoping this was a one-shot gig and we're done," she said Monday afternoon. But with a worrisome increase in coronavirus cases across the state and a Rice County case rate nearing 800 per 100,000 residents, Purfeerst, the county's public health director, is urging residents to get back to the basics.

"It's important for people to make wise decisions as they gather with friends and family," she said, recommending people who are planning Thanksgiving get togethers should ask themselves three questions:

• Have we been vaccinated?

• Are we healthy?

• Do we have symptoms?

Purfeerst realizes it's the same advice public health and healthcare leaders have espoused for nearly two years, but that's because it works, she said.

Minnesota’s latest COVID-19 data shows a pandemic hitting new highs for 2021, putting more pressure on hospitals with no signs yet of retreat. But while the numbers are the highest seen this calendar year, they're nowhere near as high as Thanksgiving 2020. The week of Nov. 8, 2021, Rice County recorded 298 new cases. The same week last year saw 798 cases.

The rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is hovering at just under 10 percent statewide, according to MPR News calculations, about twice the rate officials find concerning.

Hospitalizations are especially concerning. Bed counts that fell below 100 in mid-July jumped in the late fall; 1,414 people were hospitalized as of Friday with COVID with 340 needing intensive care, the highest since early December.

Hospital executives across the state say COVID patients combined with other care needs are overwhelming short-staffed care centers. Hospitals in this wave are seeing more people needing treatment for other illnesses along with people who delayed getting care over the past year and a half.

Purfeerst says local hospitals are "busy," and that some of the state's major health care systems are considering postponing elective surgeries until this latest wave abates, a move that would help ensure beds are available for emergencies.

There’s also rising concern that schools, especially elementary schools where children have been too young to vaccinate, may be helping accelerate community spread.

Last week, Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillmann and Bridgewater Elementary Principal Nancy Antoine, in a letter to parents, said there was a concerning increase in COVID cases at the elementary school, with 20 laboratory-confirmed cases in the prior two weeks. The district's COVID-19 Dashboard, updated Monday, seems to show a slowing of increase.

Faribault Public Schools haven't experienced a similar wave. As of Friday, only Roosevelt Elementary and Faribault Middle had more than five current cases. Roosevelt had six, Faribault Middle had eight. 

Both the Northfield and Faribault district require masks for everyone school age and above when they're inside a school building.

Boosters

Anyone who hasn't yet been vaccinated should do so as soon as possible, says Purfeerst, noting that the risk of severe illness or death is 10 times higher for the unvaccinated.

Children 5 and older may now be vaccinated. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended booster shots for adults who completed the Pfizer or Moderna two-shots series at least six months ago, and a booster for adults who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two months ago.

Finding a vaccine is now easier than finding a testing site, said Purfeerst. Testing is available in Rochester and Albert Lea, but has been a challenge locally. Despite the difficulty, public health officials ask anyone who suspects they may have COVID to quarantine until they've received a negative test or the isolation period has passed.

While remaining vigilant after 20 months of COVID, masking and social distancing is wearing, Purfeerst asks people to continue using common sense.

"It's always a balance," she said, "because being around friends and family is important, but you need to be safe about it.

"If you have a fever of sniffle, get tested."

Minnesota Public Radio news contributed to this story. Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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