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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — Minnesota again set a new single-day high for COVID-19 fatalities Friday, bringing the death toll over the last three days to 94.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported 33 new COVID-19 deaths Friday, a day after reporting 32 new fatalities. Adding in Wednesday’s 29 deaths, the last three days account for three of the four highest daily death tolls in the state since the pandemic began.

The state’s total death toll now sits at 842 over about two months, nearly double the amount of deaths linked to Minnesota’s worst six-month influenza season over the last decade.

South-central Minnesota didn’t have any newly reported COVID-19 deaths, but cases continue to climb as testing ramps up in the region and statewide. Nicollet County’s 11 new cases were the most in the region Friday.

The other new cases in the region included four in Blue Earth County, three in Watonwan County and one each in Waseca, Le Sueur and Brown counties.

The tug of war between public health and the desire for normalcy in the COVID-19 era was on full display Friday as Minnesotans mourned the State Fair’s cancellation and debated the relative risk of large religious gatherings. State health officials continued to plead with Minnesotans to stay vigilant against the virus — wearing masks in public and social distancing — and reiterated that people without symptoms can unknowingly spread COVID-19, putting others in danger.

“There are those among us who will not do well with this virus and who will develop severe disease,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, told reporters. “It’s not high tech. We know what to do to prevent transmission of this virus.”

Her comments came hours after the health department reported COVID-19’s escalating toll — along with the death toll, 534 people are currently hospitalized with 233 in intensive care, a new daily high in the pandemic.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said some hospital intensive care units in the Twin Cities metro were filling now to the point where they are within 5% of normal capacity.

Some of that is due to the steady rise of COVID-19 cases while others are due to the resumption of nonelective surgeries. The state has said it could add surge capacity quickly.

“When we know we have community spread,” Malcolm said, “it is common sense to do everything that we can to protect each other.”

Many of the recent outbreaks outside the Twin Cities metro area are focused around meatpacking plants. Officials have intensified testing in those hot spots, uncovering more infections.

In southwestern Minnesota’s Nobles County, where an outbreak hit Worthington’s massive JBS pork plant, about 1 in 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases in the county. By Friday, there were 1,432 confirmed cases, although the numbers are rising at a much slower rate than in previous weeks.

The JBS plant shut down on April 20 but has since partially reopened with expanded hygiene and health monitoring measures.

Similar problems have been reported in Stearns County, where COVID-19 cases tied to two packing plants — Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Cold Spring and Jennie-O Turkey in Melrose — have skyrocketed. An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus.

There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County two weeks ago. By Friday, confirmed cases were at 1,881 with 12 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb a month after officials with the Jennie-O turkey processing plant there said some employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The county had confirmed three COVID-19 cases then.

On Friday, the health department reported 443 people have now tested positive.

While the counts in those counties are high relative to their population, officials say the growth in new cases in those areas appears to be stabilizing.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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