COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly increase in Rice County as the entire state and nation sees a dangerous increase in cases and virus-related deaths.

In Northfield, where the number of those testing positive for COVID (506 as of Thursday) were about a third of Faribault’s 1,586, two long-term care facilities in the college city are dealing with outbreaks.

Three Northfield Hospital and Clinics Long Term Care Center staff reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday. In a release from Northfield Hospital, it noted that the three cases were the first positives at the Center and are considered part of routine weekly testing for all center staff, based on requirements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which governs skilled nursing facilities. No residents from the facility have tested positive or experienced symptoms of the virus.

NH+C is expected to begin testing all Long Term Care Center staff within a 24-hour period starting Monday, with repeat testing every seven days until reaching 14 days with no positive test results.

According to Thursday’s report from the Minnesota Department of Health, 82 additional Rice County residents positive for COVID-19; one additional death was reported. Across the state, 7,228 newly-reported cases, the most reported during the pandemic, were listed along with 39 deaths, the second-highest figure. Fifty nine were reported as having died from the virus during the previous 24 hours.

As communities all over the country experience outbreaks in recent weeks, Minnesota ranks ninth in the country for new cases per capita with 982.4 new cases per 100,000 people in Minnesota over the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

According to Rice County Public Health, 481 positive COVID-19 tests were reported within the county during the week of Nov. 1-7, more than double the 178 from Oct. 25-31. Those numbers have been rising since Oct. 11-17, when 80 were reported. Between Oct. 25-Nov. 7, the county’s 14-day case rate was 100.21, more than double the state recommended case rate of 50. When counties hit a case rate of 50 per 10,000, it’s recommended that schools shift exclusively to distance learning.

Three districts with schools in Rice County Tri-City United, Faribault Public Schools and Northfield Public Schools announced this week that they will shift to distance learning before Thanksgiving. Students as parochial school, Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, have been distance learning since Wednesday. They return to class Nov. 30.

{strong style=”background-color: #ffffff;”}‘Need to get it under control’{/strong}

Rice County Public Health Director Deb Purfeerst noted keeping COVID-19 cases out of long-term care facilities is difficult because of the high number of asymptomatic people who are spreading the virus and the ease with which the disease spreads in congregate settings. She said any care facility with at least one COVID-19 case is given an MDH case manager who ensures necessary steps are taken to minimize resident and staff risk. Purfeerst expects the introduction of a vaccine will help prevent staff and residents from spreading the virus.

Purfeerst said she supports Gov. Tim Walz’s restrictions on bars, restaurants and gatherings to slow the spread of the pandemic, especially with the toll the virus is having on hospital staffing levels due to COVID-19 exposure.

“I know for many people it’s unfortunate that maybe they’re seeing the more dialed back restrictions, but it’s what we need to do to control the spread of the virus,” she said. “It’s not easy. It’s a hard decision, and I understand that it affects what people can do.”

Purfeerst has said that increases in positive tests and deaths from the virus across the state are expected as more people spend time indoors due to colder weather. At the same time, she noted COVID-19 testing indicated Rice County was in a slightly better position in combating the virus than comparable areas. Still, she said it was most important that follow existing guidelines to combat the spread of the virus, including minimizing close contact with others, quarantining for 14 days following a positive test, and isolating after being exposed to the virus.

NH+C President and CEO Steve Underdahl noted the health system is seeing an increase in people with COVID-19 symptoms in its clinics and Emergency Department, plus an increase in patients who need to be hospitalized. Most recently COVID-19 patients were seen as making up, on average, one-third to one-half of patients in Northfield Hospital.

Underdahl deemed the increase “manageable,” but said at some point it will make it harder to take more hospital patients. He said most local COVID-19 cases are caused by community spread, often from people who don’t have symptoms.

Continued rise

The continued case growth has state officials and health care workers concerned about hospital capacity as hospitalizations due to complications from the virus typically follow an increase in cases. According to the health department’s online dashboard, 1,075 intensive care beds out of 1,387 statewide are in use by patients suffering from COVID-19 and those with other ailments, though there are 408 beds that can be made ready for use in 72 hours.

There are 1,299 people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 related symptoms, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

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