Waseca covid testing

Cars lined up Sept. 23 at the Waseca County Fairgrounds for free COVID-19 testing. The Minnesota National Guard aided in the testing process. (Bailey Grubish/Southernminn.com)

COVID-19 cases due to community spread in Waseca County are “quite high” approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, county Public Health Director Sarah Berry said.

“We are in a really awful spot right now,” she told the Waseca County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. “Our cases are going up significantly and that has implications for our schools.”

Showing the county commissioners a graph of new cases per week between March and October, Berry said the weeks of Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 would be off the chart because there’s been more cases than any previous week during the pandemic.

Waseca County had 29 new cases reported on Monday and 11 new cases reported on Tuesday, according to the Waseca County Public Health Department’s data. The county has had a total of 1,158 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic as of Nov. 17 and 10 deaths, two of which occurred in a private residence and eight occurred in a long-term care or assisted living facility, according to the data.

Thirty-seven Waseca County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and four are currently hospitalized. When cases increase, hospitalizations typically increase a couple weeks later, Berry said.

Berry meets weekly with school officials to review the data when the case rate used to decide the learning model is released by the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursdays. Berry said she expects Waseca County’s case rate on Thursday to be 60 cases per 10,000 residents. But if that was calculated using last week’s data, it would 97 cases per 10,000 residents, she said.

School officials have done an “astronomical lift” in contact tracing the close contacts for students who are out sick and notifying families whose students were a close contact, she said.

“They provide guidance that the state right now is not providing to those families because the contact and trace investigations are significantly delayed and are, quite honestly, not happening at a regular rate right now in our region,” she said.

She noted that contact tracing in the community can be difficult because a person may be dishonest or have gaps in their memory about who they were around in the days before they became sick.

When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, county staff will be distributing it while they are trying to handle the virus occurring at a regular rate in the community, on top of dealing with vacancies in the department, she said. The Public Health Department could potentially move to its continuity of operations plan, where it prioritizes its activities and ceases to provide some services, she said. The top services it will continue to provide are nutrition services on which families rely and care coordination to ensure older residents are safe in their homes.

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

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