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The Associated PressThe Free Press

MANKATO — From Gaylord to St. James, from from Fairmont to Waseca and from New Ulm to Wells, south-central Minnesotans headed into the holiday weekend with some remarkably good pandemic news.

There were just five new cases of COVID-19 in the nine-county region surrounding Mankato, according to Saturday’s report from the Minnesota Department of Health. That included no new cases in six of the counties — Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan — and just single cases in Blue Earth and Le Sueur Counties. Nicollet County reported three cases.

Statewide, there were 343 more confirmed and probable cases and 10 deaths, bringing the pandemic death toll to 7,418.

This week brought the total number of Minnesotans who have contracted the disease to more than 600,000 since the novel coronavirus was first reported in the state in March of 2020. Since then, more than 32,000 residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 — more than 6,500 of those in intensive care units.

But as vaccination rates have climbed, cases have plummeted. South-central Minnesota hasn’t seen such a small number of new cases in nearly a year. From June 11 to 14, 2020, there were days of 0, 3 and 4 new cases in the region.

As recently as the first week of May, the region was averaging 55 new cases per day — 10 times the number in Saturday’s report. During the mini-surge of cases in March and early April, the region topped 100 new daily cases on the worst days.

And at the height of the pandemic in November, on 16 days more than 200 people in the Mankato region tested positive for COVID-19, including six days where the figure exceeded 300.

Even with the dramatic improvement, Minnesota continues to have a higher number of new cases per capita in the past week (60 for every 100,000 residents) compared to the national average (44).

But Minnesota has dropped out of the top 10 states in per capital new cases after sitting in the top five for much of the spring surge. Washington (103) is the leader in new cases per capita in the past week, followed by Colorado, West Virginia, Wyoming and Florida. Other states in the top 10 are Oregon, Kentucky, Maine, Indiana and Louisiana.

Minnesota continues to have the highest new-case rate in the five-state area, where South Dakota and Iowa lead the way with fewer than 30. Looking at per capita statistics for the entirety of the pandemic, however, Minnesota has the fewest cases and the fewest deaths per 100,000 residents of any of the five states.

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