MANKATO — South-central Minnesota’s COVID-19 positivity rate ticked up for the second straight week, although it remains well below levels seen between mid-October to mid-January.
Since dipping to a record low 3% in early February, the percent of tests resulting in positive cases bounced back up with 3.5% and 3.8% rates over the last two weeks, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. Rates were as high as 15% in mid-November and lingered over 5% into mid-January.
A sustained rate below 5%, which south-central Minnesota has had since the week ending on Jan. 20, is considered encouraging.
Despite the two consecutive weeks with rises, area counties still appear on a good path, said Derek J. Wingert, a local volunteer data analyst for the COVID Tracking Project. He’s been tracking key COVID measures for counties across the state during the pandemic.
“We’re on the right path as long as people realize we can’t just stop halfway,” he said. “We have to go all the way to the finish line.”
He was encouraged with the steady testing levels in the south-central region over the last two weeks. The counties combined for 10,716 tests this week, compared to 10,731 the week before, a drop of only .14%.
The previous seven weeks had major fluctuations in testing. Between the week ending Jan. 13 and the week ending Jan. 20, for instance, testing dropped by 19.4%.
Getting to the finish line through little bumps like this week, Wingert said, involves continuing mitigation behaviors, seeking testing when needed and further progress on vaccines. The current metrics leave him hopeful about future weeks having lower rates again.
As with previous weeks, though, there was variability in the weekly rates between area counties. Five counties had higher rates than the week before, but four had lower rates.
Faribault County’s rise from 2.8% to 5% was the biggest in the region, followed by Watonwan County’s bump up from 5.2% to 6.7%. Watonwan County’s rate was the highest in the region and the seventh highest in the state.
Blue Earth, Le Sueur and Martin counties were the three others with higher rates this week. Blue Earth County rose from 2.9% to 3.9%, still one of the six lowest rates recorded in the county since data became available in late June.
Nicollet and Waseca counties stood out most among those with lower rates this week, although for different reasons. After having the highest rate in the region at 9.6% last week, Waseca County had the biggest drop down to 5.3% this week.
Nicollet County, meanwhile, saw an already low rate before this week go even lower. In dropping from 2.7% to 1.9% over the last two weeks, the county achieved one of the lowest weekly positivity rates recorded in south-central Minnesota during the pandemic.
Brown and Sibley counties were the remaining two with lower positivity rates this week. Sibley County also again had the fewest new cases per 10,000 residents in the entire state.
The encouraging overall picture for the south-central region comes as state health officials continue to monitor virus variants making their way to Minnesota. The state’s infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann, earlier this week noted Minnesota is up to 40 cases of the U.K. strain.
“We want to make sure we’re not giving a foothold to these variants,” she said.