The Free Press and MPR News
MANKATO — South-central Minnesota counties combined for their lowest COVID-19 positivity rate since mid-October this week, but another death reported in the area Thursday continued January’s deadly start.
About 5% of tests in the nine counties resulted in positive cases in the week ending Wednesday, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. Positivity rates higher than 5% are considered concerning by health experts.
The nine-county region’s rates have hovered between 5% and 5.7% over the last four weeks, an encouraging sign after rates spiked up to 15% in mid-November.
Despite the encouraging stretch, state health experts warn cases could start rising again now that the state is two weeks out from the late 2020 holiday season. South-central Minnesota’s rate did rise to 5.7% last week but dropped back down this week.
The dip was fueled by lower positivity rates in six of the nine counties compared to last week. Sibley County’s 3.6% positivity rate was the lowest in the region and one of the 20 lowest in the state.
Adjusting for population differences, Sibley County also had the lowest number of new cases per 10,000 residents in the state. Sibley County only had 2.4 new cases per 10,000 residents in a week when testing rose in the county.
Other significant drops this week occurred in Waseca, Le Sueur and Faribault counties. All had rates higher than 8% last week before declining below 6% this week — Le Sueur County was the only among the three to dip below 5%, however.
The remaining counties with lower rates than last week were Nicollet and Brown. Nicollet County dropped from 5.5% to 4.9%, while Brown County’s rate dropped by the slightest of margins from 4.22% to 4.21%.
Positivity rates rose, meanwhile, in Blue Earth, Watonwan and Martin counties this week.
Blue Earth County’s rate rose from 4.6% to 5.3% amid lower testing levels. The county has alternated between drops and rises over the last five weeks.
Martin County’s rise from 5.7% to 6.2% gave it the highest rate among area counties this week. Watonwan County’s rate rose from 3.4% to 3.9%, which was still the second lowest rate in the region.
Apart from the 15.5% drop in testing in Blue Earth County this week, all other counties had an increase in tests. Overall, south-central Minnesota had 10,649 completed tests, up 5.6% from the week before.
And just like last week, south-central Minnesota’s positivity rate was lower than the state as a whole. Minnesota had a 5.1% rate.
The latest testing data came as Hy-Vee announced it’ll offer rapid COVID antibody testing at both Mankato stores and its St. Peter store. The tests determine if someone was previously infected with COVID.
A release from Hy-Vee stated patients will receive same-day results, possibly in as little as 15 minutes. Tests will cost $25 and patients will need to register ahead of time through www.hy-vee.com/covidtesting.
Watonwan County death
Earlier Thursday, the health department reported a COVID death in Watonwan County.
The resident was reportedly in their mid to late 50s. The fatality was among 43 new deaths linked to the illness statewide, bringing Minnesota’s death toll to 5,817.
The nine counties in south-central Minnesota have now combined for 21 COVID deaths so far in January and 189 since the pandemic began.
Watonwan County’s pandemic death toll rose to eight. As the least populated county in the south-central region, it has the second lowest number of COVID deaths behind Sibley County’s seven.
Area counties also combined for 41 new COVID cases Thursday, a relatively small uptick since January began. The full list of new cases by area county includes:
• Blue Earth County — 13
• Nicollet County — 8
• Le Sueur County — 5
• Martin County — 5
• Sibley County — 4
• Waseca County — 2
• Brown County — 2
• Faribault County — 2
Statewide, the health department released data showing relatively positive trend lines for Minnesota on a bunch of key COVID measures, including new cases and hospitalizations.
The state reported 1,598 newly confirmed or probable cases of the disease. There are 645 people in the hospital with COVID, with 131 needing intensive care.
Those hospitalization counts have dropped by more than half during the past four weeks. The seven-day trend of new hospital admissions is down to levels not seen since late October. Hospital admissions are now lower than they were Nov. 1 but still above their Oct. 1 level.
While the improving trends look good following an awful November and December — when cases, hospitalizations and deaths spiked — officials still don’t believe the state is in the clear. Public health leaders believe another surge is likely in the coming weeks.