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Waseca County has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases in the latest two-week reporting period released by the Minnesota Department of Health last Thursday. The case rate per 10,000 led the state and is expected to increase when new numbers are released Thursday. ( file photo)

The numbers don’t lie, but they might need a little interpretation.

Waseca County saw a spike in its case rate per 10,000 people after the Minnesota Department of Health last Thursday released the latest data for the two-week reporting period of Aug. 9-22. Waseca County’s rate ballooned to 37.75 after the previous two-week period saw a 22.33 case rate per 10,000. Waseca recorded the highest case rate per 10,000 in the state for Aug. 9-22. Neighboring Le Sueur County had the second-highest rate with a 36.81.

Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry attributes the sharp increase to community spread. Her department hasn’t seen any workplace outbreaks within Waseca County yet.

Some in the community have looked at the Federal Corrections Institution in Waseca as a culprit. FCI-Waseca, which houses 614 female inmates, has reported 51 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and four among staff. Six inmates and two staff members have recovered from COVID-19. The Bureau of Prisons updates its numbers daily and its website says the bureau is ramping up efforts to test asymptomatic inmates.

As of Tuesday, Waseca County reported 338 lab confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths. But not all of the case numbers at the prison are reflected in the total number for the county, Berry said.

Around 30 percent of the prison cases are counted in the county’s number now, Berry said. There is a snag between the federal system of reporting and the state system of reporting so those federal numbers aren’t entirely transferred through to the Minnesota Department of Health, she said.

Though significant, the prison numbers aren’t the only driving force behind the recent surge.

“When we look at our county numbers right now, they are not fully included and do not at all account for all of the cases that we’re seeing,” Berry said. “We have lots and lots of community spread and that’s driving our numbers.”

Three of the deaths in the county have come from congregate living situations, like nursing homes, and all those who have died had underlying health conditions. Of the 338 lab confirmed COVID-19 cases, 266 have recovered. Twenty-two cases required hospitalization and 21 have been released from the hospital.

Waseca County’s case rate per 10,000 is likely to increase for the next reporting period as well. The rising case rate per 10,000 has already prompted Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school districts to modify their school plans to begin the year in distance learning for older students. Waseca Public Schools has a School Board workshop meeting scheduled for Thursday where the topic is expected to be discussed.

What community spread looks like

When someone develops symptoms and stays home, they expose the rest of the household to the virus. Those exposed to the virus can also develop symptoms, which increases the numbers in the county.

“When we have shared households it can be difficult, depending on your living situation to prevent your loved ones from becoming ill,” Berry said. “We do see households impacted and that’s certainly had an impact on our county numbers.”

Waseca County reported 94 total COVID-19 cases for August. Forty of those cases had known contact with an infected person while the other 54 did not know of any exposure with a known contact.

How to drive the number back down

Berry might sound like a broken record when it comes to ways to drive the number back down, but following the guidance is the best advice she can give. She urges people to wear a mask when you’re with people outside your household, even at outdoor events. People need to stay 6 feet apart from those outside their household and people need to get tested, she said.

“We do know that people have been doing activities like weddings, funerals, showers, birthday parties, and sometimes, especially when we’re related and we don’t share a house, we feel more comfortable and safe than perhaps we should.”

Reach Sports Editor Nick Gerhardt at 507-835-5447 or follow him on Twitter @WCNSports. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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