Steele County had an increase of 30 new COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period on Friday, the same amount that it usually has in an entire week.

The increase on Friday comes after the county had an increase of 68 cases last week, Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said.

“This is very concerning, especially as we head into the colder winter months,” Caron said.

Minnesota reported 2,297 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new record for the state. Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcom called it a “very, very sobering number” during a media briefing Friday. While she said she’s “deeply worried” about Friday’s increase, she wasn’t surprised by it. She added that the number of new cases on Friday wasn’t due to a backlog in test results being reported or a specific event.

Minnesota has had daily increases of more than 1,000 cases for 12 of the past 16 days, she said. The state is also seeing an increase in hospitalizations, she said.

The state’s testing volume is up by 65% since early September, but the state’s positivity rate for the test results is 5.3%. A positivity rate of more than 5% indicates that the spread of COVID-19 is widespread in Minnesota and the state has had a positivity rate of more than 5% for the past 18 days, she said.

“It spreads when you don’t feel it. It spreads when you don’t know it,” she said.

Steele County had 703 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Friday, 570 of which are no longer needing isolation, according to the county. Two Steele County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday and the county’s death toll remained at two.

The increasing number of cases in Steele County is largely due to community spread and a majority of the people who have tested positive lately are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, Caron said.

The county has also had an increase in the number of people testing positive who are asymptomatic, she said. That typically occurs when a person is tested because they were a close contact of a positive case or is being tested before a minor medical procedure or surgery. Testing events in Waseca and Rice counties lately have also contributed to the increase in asymptomatic people testing positive, she said.

Steele County health officials knew community spread was occurring, but the cases involving asymptomatic people lately is a “red flag,” she said. She said her department has received complaints about staff and customers not wearing masks or social distancing while in businesses in the county.

“That’s some of our only defenses,” she said.

She urged residents to remain in quarantine, even if they are asymptomatic or waiting to find out test results. She noted that people are leaving quarantine, which then can infect more people.

She also encourages residents to answer the phone if the Minnesota Department of Health or Steele County Public Health is calling. The agencies are either calling to notify the person that they’re a close contact with a positive case or are doing a case investigation for close contacts of a positive case, she said.

School districts’ learning model is based on the county’s case rate, the county’s positivity rate and what is occurring in the school building. She said they want to be cautious in transitioning between distance learning, in-person or a hybrid because it’s difficult to transition for families and school staff, but if the county continues on the trend it’s currently on, schools may have to move to a different learning model, she said.

Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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