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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — One of the state’s top health officials linked the recent jump in COVID-19 cases in south-central Minnesota to young adults in their 20s visiting multiple bars during the June 12-13 weekend.

Some of the young adults work in child care and health care, said Kris Ehresmann, the health department’s infectious disease division director, during a media briefing Wednesday.

The confirmation comes a week after a downtown Mankato service worker found out he tested positive for COVID-19. Multiple Mankato bars and restaurants have since announced temporary closures.

Young adults should be wearing masks and practicing social distancing when visiting bars and restaurants, Ehresmann said.

“Make sure you’re cognizant of the risk of COVID-19 transmission in a group setting,” she said. “Obviously the impact may be less for these age groups, but it has the potential to have secondary transmission to other parts of the community and individuals at greater risk.”

She referred to a cluster of about 100 cases in the area focused on young adults in their 20s who visited bars. Blue Earth County has had 91 new cases confirmed since Friday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Those cases include 20 new positives confirmed Wednesday, the latest rise in a five-day jump in local cases. More than one-third of the county’s total number of COVID-19 cases since mid-March have been identified over the last five days.

County public health data show residents in their 20s account for more than half — 157 of 267 — of all cases in the county. No other age group has had more than 24 cases.

All but one of the nine south-central Minnesota counties also had new cases Wednesday. The other new cases included:

• Seven in Watonwan County

• Four in Le Sueur County

• Three in Nicollet County

• Two in Brown County

• One in Waseca County

• One in Martin County

• One in Sibley County

Watonwan County has had a similar jump in cases as Blue Earth County since last week. The county has had 74 cases since June 16.

People between 20-44 years old make up 105 of the county’s 173 cases. Since June 16, 13 people in their 20s, 13 in their 30s, and 11 in their 40s have tested positive.

Younger residents also have tested positive since June 16. Watonwan County had eight residents younger than 10 and seven between 10-19 years old test positive.

New state data show how many tests were completed in Blue Earth and Watonwan counties since the pandemic began. As of June 17, Blue Earth County had 5,953 tests and Watonwan County had 928.

The percentage of positive tests, however, was drastically different between the counties. Blue Earth County had 3.5% of tests come back positive, compared to 11.6% in Watonwan County.

The percentages don’t take into account the sharp increase in cases since June 17, but the new data provide the clearest picture yet into how much testing happened in the region.

Ehresmann’s remarks about bar-goers came hours after the health department reported five more deaths related to COVID-19, putting the total at 1,397 since the pandemic began.

The trends, though, continue to show a slowing death rate.

Wednesday marked the first time since mid-April that the state reported four consecutive days of deaths in the single digits.

The counts of people currently hospitalized (340) and needing intensive care (160) — two closely watched metrics as officials try to manage the spread of the disease — stayed roughly stable but still showed an overall downward trend the past few weeks.

Of the 33,763 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began, state officials say about 88 percent of those infected have recovered to the point they no longer need to be isolated.

Among those who’ve died, nearly 80 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems. Blue Earth County’s death toll has remained at two, people aged 85 and 91, even as cases spike.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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