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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in Blue Earth County dropped for the third straight week, according to new data released Thursday.

The county’s rate of tests coming back positive went from 7.1% between July 15-22 to 5.9% between July 22-29. The figure was as high as 8.4% earlier in July.

Blue Earth County’s lower positive test rate came during a period when testing was up countywide compared to the previous week.

There were 1,276 tests completed and 75 cases in the county from July 22-29, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The week before had 1,222 tests and 87 cases.

Despite the encouraging trend in Blue Earth County — coinciding with when Mankato started requiring people to wear masks — south-central Minnesota’s overall positivity rate slightly rose amid higher testing. The rate went from 4.7% last week to 4.9% this week.

Five of the nine counties in the region had upticks in the percent of positive cases, including Nicollet, Brown, Le Sueur, Waseca and Watonwan counties. Faribault, Sibley and Martin counties joined Blue Earth among the counties with lower rates week over week.

Nicollet County, which went from a 3.6% to a 5.5% rate, was one of just three counties in the region with lower testing totals this week. The others were Brown and Martin counties.

Watonwan County again had the highest rate of positive tests with 9.8%, up from 8% last week. The county’s rate has remained elevated since two major testing events in earlier in July resulted in a drop in the positivity rate.

Blue Earth, Nicollet, Le Sueur, Brown and Watonwan counties all had more than 5% of tests come back positive during the most recent week. Health officials back in May advised areas to achieve lower than 5% rates for a sustained period before reopening.

Also on Thursday, six area counties reported new COVID cases. The region had 28 total new cases.

The full list of new cases in the region includes:

• Blue Earth County — Eight

• Nicollet County — Six

• Le Sueur County — Six

• Waseca County — Four

• Watonwan County — Two

• Brown County — Two

For the state as a whole, cases continue to trend upward. Hospitalizations are slowly trending upward, while deaths are flat.

The state health department reported 745 new confirmed cases Thursday, with 298 people currently hospitalized .

for the disease and 141 of those needing intensive care. Hospitalizations and ICU cases — two closely watched metrics — dipped slightly from Wednesday.

Still, officials are increasingly concerned about the overall direction of those numbers as new case counts rise. Hospitals not only need to have enough ICU beds for COVID patients but also for all other medical needs.

The state also passed a milestone Thursday, reporting more than 1 million tests for the disease completed on 820,817 Minnesotans since the pandemic began.

Five more people have died from the disease, bringing the toll to 1,594 since the pandemic began. About 76% of those who’ve died had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Of the 53,692 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, about 88% of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

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