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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — South-central Minnesota had slightly more new COVID-19 cases confirmed Wednesday compared to the day before.

Seven counties combined for 32 new cases, up from 28 on Tuesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The region’s new case totals have mostly stayed level in recent days after weeks of higher counts.

No new COVID deaths were reported in the region. Deaths rose sharply in the region over the last month.

The full list of new cases in south-central Minnesota includes:

  • Blue Earth County — Nine
  • Watonwan County — Six
  • Le Sueur County — Four
  • Brown County — Four
  • Martin County — Four
  • Waseca County — Three
  • Sibley County — Two

Statewide, Wednesday’s health department report showed 513 new infections; 244 patients are in the hospital with 136 needing intensive care. Those hospitalization numbers inched up from Tuesday, but the overall trend is down so far in September compared to August.

Hospital patients and ICU cases are two metrics closely watched by department officials as they work to manage the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system.

Seven more deaths reported Wednesday brought Minnesota’s toll during the pandemic to 1,933. Among those who’ve died, about 73% had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

While the numbers are fairly stable right now, officials continue to caution that the level of community spread of the virus means more problems ahead.

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the department was “watching with concern” the rapid growth in new COVID-19 confirmed cases in the states surrounding Minnesota and bracing for potential higher daily case counts from over the Labor Day weekend, when people ventured out for informal get-togethers with family and friends.

The state saw a jump in cases following the July Fourth holiday. Officials also worry about a one-two punch this fall and winter from COVID-19 and the typical flu season.

Minnesota public health leaders reacted with unease Wednesday to news that the Big Ten conference, including the University of Minnesota, will play football after all this fall and that the Minnesota State High School League is reconsidering whether to do the same.

The state’s top health officials said that while they understood the importance of youth sports, COVID-19 posed a risk to student athletes as well as to the universe of coaches, friends and families that surround players.

“We’re always concerned about things that just increase close contact with large numbers of people, given the degree of virus we know is circulating in the community,” Malcolm told reporters Wednesday.

Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, recalled the joy of watching her kids play high school sports.

“I absolutely feel for the parents that feel so strongly about this,” she said, acknowledging she chokes up talking about it wearing her “mom hat.” But she added: “I recognize what we’re seeing with disease transmission, and that is really concerning.”

The state, Ehresmann said, has seen 1,452 cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota tied to sports activities in the pandemic, including nearly 900 cases in adults. Collectively, she said, that caseload has led to recommended quarantines for more than 3,300 people.

“This is not a cold,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, warned of COVID-19. “There are some people who do fine with this, but there are others, including young people, who do not do fine.”

She noted studies showing heart and other health problems linked to COVID-19 that appear to linger beyond the infection.

“We really don’t have a sense of all the things this virus can do,” she said.

The Big Ten intends to open its season Oct. 23-24. The Minnesota State High School League expects to meet Monday to review its earlier decision to not play football and volleyball this fall, and try to play them in the spring, in the face of COVID-19.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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