COVID Mask

A sharp upward trend in local COVID-19 cases continued this past week, mirroring the same surge of cases and hospitalizations seen throughout the state.

During a McLeod County Board meeting Nov. 17, Berit Spors, the county’s Health and Human Services director, reported there had been 1,430 cases of COVID-19.

“At the last board meeting, which was Nov. 3, I reported we had 699,” Spors said. “That’s an increase of 731 positive cases in two weeks.”

Confirmed cases continued to rise following the board meeting, reaching 1,630 and nine deaths by Friday. Data available Nov. 17 revealed 1,039 county residents were able to leave isolation after a diagnosis, but 24 were hospitalized, a record for the county. A look back at data provided by the county shows a handful of COVID-19 hospitalizations in April, May, June and July. Recorded hospitalizations climbed to as high as three in a week in August, five in a week in September, and four in a week in October.

At one time, the majority of new cases were centered in Glencoe, but the percentage of total cases has shifted over time, with most now occuring in Hutchinson.

Schools in McLeod County are shifting to more restrictive learning models in the face of growing cases. As of Nov. 16, all secondary students in Hutchinson Public Schools had transitioned to complete distance learning. Elementary students will follow Nov. 30. Glencoe-Silver Lake and Lester Prairie schools have shifted to full distance learning.

The state watches a county’s 14-day new case rate per 10,000 residents to advise schools on which learning models to use. New 14-day case rates are released by the state every Thursday, but they always reflect rates from two weeks prior. Schools are directed to use more cautious models — including a hybrid model with half the student body learning from home, and complete digital learning from home — as the number increases. With a case rate of 50 or higher, schools are usually advised to have all students learn from home.

McLeod County’s case rate was 118.35 per 10,000 residents, as of Nov. 19.

Spors also told County Board members businesses in the county were reporting clusters of cases, which means three or more positive cases among employees are reported.

Long-term care facilities have also noted an uptick in cases. Older populations are generally considered at risk of more dangerous COVID-19 symptoms.

To keep track of the rapidly evolving data, McLeod County is creating a dashboard that will appear on the county website (co.mcleod.mn.us). It will display real-time data with a geographic information system.

“COVID has really hit home in McLeod County,” County Administrator Sheila Murphy said. “I think all of us now know someone or groups of people who are personally effected, and we’re just asking everyone to stay safe.”

Spors reiterated the importance of residents to wear masks in public that cover the mouth and nose, social distance and wash hands frequently. Each practice is required to improve the safety of others.

Hutchinson will soon be the site of one of Minnesota’s free “no barrier” COVID-19 testing sites. Nine more will be spread across rural Minnesota, plus one more in the west metro. The state is also rolling out a COVID-19 test-at-home program.

All new testing sites and the mail program are available to any Minnesotan who wants to be tested, whether they have symptoms or not, and do not require insurance. The Hutchinson site at the National Guard Armory, 1200 Adams St. S.E., opens Nov. 30.

A test can also be delivered through the mail and ordered at tinyurl.com/yxfawy6o.