Steele cases surge, but no deaths
After low numbers for several weeks, COVID-19 cases in Steele County jumped sharply over the past week.
Public Health Director Amy Caron reported 10 new cases in Steele County over the past week, bringing to total of 24 confirmed cases since the outbreak began in mid-March. For the first time in weeks, Steele surpassed Dodge County in the number of cases. Currently, Dodge has 22 positive cases and no deaths.
“We went up significantly,” Caron said. On a more positive side, there have been no deaths and only two patients have been hospitalized throughout the pandemic.
While cases are going up, there still are no reported COVID-19 cases in any long-term care facilities in either county, Caron said.
Caron attributes the increase to more testing taking place across the state. “We are not surprised we are seeing more positive cases,” she said. “We expect it to keep ramping up,” she added.
In Freeborn County, there have been 35 cases compared to 28 in Mower County. No deaths have been reported in either county.
Widespread testing is scheduled to take place over the next two weeks across the state. Caron will be meeting with officials at Mayo Clinic in Owatonna this week to discuss its plans once widespread testing gets underway.
Another change happening on the local level is that Steele County Public Health will be conducting contact case investigations instead of the state. Caron explained any time there is a confirmed case in Steele County, one of her workers will be conducting the follow-up investigation. At least eight public health workers in Steele County will receive extra training to handle the investigations, she said.
In other developments this past week, Gov. Tim Walz announced that he was extending the stay-at-home order to May 18 in a continued effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19. “That’s not a huge surprise,” Caron said. “They are trying to balance the safety of people with the safety of opening back up businesses. They are taking it in small steps.”
Caron said the whole idea behind staying at home is to allow health care facilities to get ready for coronavirus. “We have done a good job in Minnesota so are hospitals are ready for any surge or swell,” she said.
Social gatherings are still locked down to the fullest extent. Walz says social distancing in these settings continue to be the state’s “strongest tool” to prevent the spread of the disease.
While most of the limits on public life will remain like they have since mid-March, the governor loosened restrictions for nonessential retail businesses, which can now offer curbside pickup and delivery services for customers.
With more businesses opening, they must develop a plan to safely operate and publicly post it. The state won’t review each plan to approve or deny it, but will reserve the right to see such plans if complaints come in about working conditions.
Many Republican leaders have been critical of the governor’s continued stay-at-home orders, which have essentially shut down many small businesses. State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, reacted angrily after hearing the governor’s extension last Thursday. “It is a real gut punch to Main Street business owners who have been holding their breath for weeks and are nearly out of air,” Bennett said. “Minnesota can methodically and carefully reopen its economy and keep Minnesotans safe, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
State officials are still waiting to implement widespread testing, which will be able to test every Minnesotan who has symptoms of COVID-19. The state announced the breakthrough in testing on April 22. Experts say the widespread testing will track the disease and isolate the sick.
With nicer weather coming and parks opening up, the temptation will be for people to become more lax with coronavirus rules. “We still need people to practice six feet of social distancing,” Caron said. “We highly recommend to wear cloth masks to protect others,” she added.