The Free Press and MPR News
MANKATO — The nine counties in south-central Minnesota combined for fewer new COVID-19 cases during the last week, despite a big uptick Friday amid record-breaking case counts statewide.
Weekly case totals have dropped in the south-central Minnesota region for several weeks in a row, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The counties had 335 total new cases from Oct. 10-16, compared to 356, 490 and 548 over the previous three weeks.
South-central Minnesota’s rate of tests coming back positive also dropped from 7.4% to 3.4% over a similar time period.
The lower positivity rate is for the week that ended Wednesday, however, meaning it doesn’t factor in the big uptick in new cases Friday. Daily testing figures aren’t available at a county level so it’s unclear how much testing happened in the region Thursday.
In contrast to the more encouraging weekly numbers in south-central Minnesota, the statewide picture was especially grim Friday. Another 13 confirmed COVID deaths meant the state had its highest three-day death toll, 61, since early June.
Daily confirmed cases leaped to a new single-day record — nearly 2,300, although results came on the heels of record testing. With COVID-19 case counts skyrocketing and deaths climbing, state public health leaders struck a decidedly somber tone Friday, pleading with Minnesotans to shoulder more personal responsibility to stem the spread of the disease.
Clearly frustrated by repeating the same advice for months, officials again implored people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, socially distance and take other measures to stem the spread even when gathering with family and friends.
There is a “steady, inexorable spread in communities across the state” from people who have the virus but don’t have symptoms, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. “It’s just critical that people take this seriously … These are preventable illnesses.”
Her comments came hours after the health department posted the concerning statewide numbers.
“I’m very saddened and I’m deeply worried about today’s numbers, but I’m not surprised,” Malcolm said, noting that Minnesota’s surge is starting to look more like the rampant spread tearing through Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
Officials Friday ticked off a range of concerns about the current state of the pandemic, including uncontrolled spread in communities across Minnesota and the rising numbers of health care workers contracting the disease outside of their workplaces — workers that then become sidelined and temporarily unable to provide care for others.
“We are seeing COVID at high numbers across the state in multiple locations,” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, describing it as the “ripple effect” from cases in late summer and early fall that continued to spread and escalate into the fall.
Active, confirmed cases this week topped 10,000 and then rose again Friday to another record in the pandemic, part of a stretch that’s seen more than 1,000 cases a day in 12 of the last 16 days.
The newly reported deaths Friday raised Minnesota’s toll to 2,212. None of Friday’s confirmed deaths were in south-central Minnesota.
The overall drop in weekly cases in south-central Minnesota happened despite five of the nine counties having upticks compared to the week before. Blue Earth, Le Sueur, Brown, Sibley and Faribault counties had the upticks.
Drops in Nicollet, Waseca, Watonwan and Martin counties outweighed the increases elsewhere. The latter three were hotspots for the virus in recent weeks but have since trended downward.
Watonwan County had a positivity rate as high as 32% in June. Between Oct. 7-14, it had the fifth-lowest rate in the state at 1.5%.
Waseca County’s rate reached 33.1% about four weeks ago but was down to 8.9% over the last week. New weekly cases dropped from 192 to 49 over a similar span.
The outbreak at the women’s prison in Waseca is down to 22 active cases among staff and three among inmates.
Martin County had had a similar decline in new cases and positivity rates. After having 104 new cases four weeks ago, it had 32 over the last week.
Its positivity rate dropped from 18.1% to 2.4% over the similar timeline.
Le Sueur County had the biggest jump in new cases, rising from 31 to 55 over the last two weeks. It joined Faribault County in having three straight weeks of increasing positivity rates as well.
As for the regionwide jump in cases Friday, the nine counties combined for 117 new cases. Daily upticks had remained in the 18-31 range between Monday-Thursday.
The complete list of new cases in the area includes:
• Blue Earth County — 43
• Le Sueur County — 21
• Nicollet County — 14
• Martin County — Nine
• Waseca County — Eight
• Brown County — Eight
• Faribault County — Six
• Sibley County — Five
• Watonwan County — Three