ST. PETER — Two Nicollet County residents tested positive for COVID-19 as known cases continue to rise in south-central Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed the cases Wednesday along with a new one in Blue Earth County and two in Martin County. Blue Earth and Waseca counties had one previous case each.
Nicollet County Health and Human Services Director Cassandra Sassenberg confirmed via email the county’s cases are associated with travel.
The new cases in Nicollet, Blue Earth and Martin counties bring south-central Minnesota’s total number to seven.
After the local cases were confirmed, Mankato Clinic designated its North Mankato facility to be a respiratory clinic Wednesday. Mankato Clinic will now direct all its patients in need of medical care for respiratory symptoms to the North Mankato clinic.
“By devoting the North Mankato Clinic to care solely for patients experiencing respiratory illness, we can continue to care for all patients who still require essential healthcare services for other needs,” said Chief Medical Officer Andrew Lundquist in a release.
The clinic also closed its drive-thru exam site at the North Mankato facility Wednesday. The health department, which had been testing samples collected at drive-thru sites, is now prioritizing hospitalized patients and health care workers for testing.
Although multiple cases popped up around the same time in Blue Earth, Nicollet and Martin counties, the south-central Minnesota cases and others across the state aren’t clustered within communities, said the state’s Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann.
“We have had cases within a household but not clustering cases,” she said. “Fair to say we have the disease, it’s in multiple areas and it’s not all just because seven people hung out together.”
The two Nicollet County residents were asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days, during which their fever and respiratory symptoms will be monitored, according to a release from Nicollet County Health and Human Services.
“Nicollet County Health and Human Services will be responsible for coordinating essential services for those in isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure,” the release stated. “These services include ensuring they have access to food and water, health care, and other necessities.”
The health department isn’t providing ages for individual cases, but the age range for the state’s 17 new cases is 21 to 71 years old.
The state health department will investigate potential exposures to the people who tested positive. Minnesota has 77 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 17 new cases confirmed Wednesday.
With the pandemic continuing to spread in Minnesota and elsewhere, Ehresmann said the number of confirmed cases is an underestimate of how widespread the virus is. Six of the 77 cases were obtained through community transmission, meaning they weren’t linked to travel or other known cases.
“That means we have more COVID-19 circulating in Minnesota than our case numbers would suggest,” Ehresmann said.
Martin County is among the counties with evidence of community transmission. The others are Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota counties.
Four Minnesotans remain hospitalized due to COVID-19. People able to manage symptoms at home don’t need to seek medical care or testing, Ehresmann said, while employers shouldn’t be requiring confirmation of COVID-19 to approve sick time for workers.