Waseca County’s COVID-19 case rate per 10,000 climbed for the fourth straight week Thursday when the Minnesota Department of Health released data from the two-week reporting period from Aug. 23-Sept. 5.

Waseca County reported a case rate of 72.84 per 10,000 — the highest in the state for the second consecutive week. The rate has continued to rise, in part, due to a spike in COVID-19 cases at the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca and a reporting lag of those cases with the state’s report.

Waseca County Public Health reported 128 new cases of COVID-19 from Sept. 18-22 with the vast majority coming from FCI-Waseca. A backlog of cases came through Sept. 20 from the prison when the county reported 98 new cases. On Wednesday, Waseca Public Health reported 17 new COVID-19 cases, all of which came from FCI-Waseca.

Around 59 percent of the county’s cases reside in FCI-Waseca, but even with that data excluded, the county’s case rate per 10,000 still hovers in the 40s, according to Waseca County Public Health.

No new deaths were reported since last week, though another congregate care setting — New Richland Care Center — reported an exposure to the state.

The elevated case rate has put all school districts in the county into a distance learning model for older students. Students in grades seven through 12 in the Waseca and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton districts have gone to distance learning while students in grades six through 12 in the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school district have gone to distance learning. The Minnesota Department of Health suggests districts with a case rate of 50 or greater per 10,000 have all students in distance learning.

Free community COVID-19 testing took place in Waseca Wednesday and Thursday from noon-6 p.m. at the Waseca County Fairgounds 4-H building No. 4.

The increased cases at FCI-Waseca are largely due to new prisoners entering the facility. FCI-Waseca ranked No. 3 in the country among federal prisons for COVID-19 cases. As of Wednesday, the Bureau of Prisons reported 108 COVID-19 cases among inmates and three among staff members. A total of 180 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison while a total of 547 inmates have been tested among 605 total inmates, according to the BOP. A total of 102 inmates and six staff members have recovered from COVID-19, according to the BOP.

Inmates from a facility in Oklahoma arrived at FCI-Waseca in mid-August and that’s when COVID-19 cases started to spike at FCI-Waseca.

Some inmates from that group were quarantined after the virus was detected, but COVID-19 was identified on a different floor of the facility, Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann told Minnesota Public Radio News last week. Ehresmann said federal marshals did not test the group of inmates prior to transferring them to Waseca.

Lynzey Donahue, a spokesperson for the Marshals, told The Marshall Project in an Aug. 13 article, that the Marshals are aware that some contract prisons aren’t testing inmates prior to transfer. In an email she wrote to The Marshall Project, she said the agency is following CDC guidance, which states: “If a transfer is absolutely necessary, perform verbal screening and a temperature check … before the individual leaves the facility.”

The Marshall Project article also reported that the U.S. Marshals do not put prisoners into quarantine or test them prior to transfer. As of early August, 3,500 in USMS custody tested positive for the virus and 13 died, according to The Marshall Project article.

The Minnesota Department of Health will release new COVID-19 case rate data Thursday.

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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