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Latest on COVID-19 in MN: Pace of outbreak continues to slow

MPR News Staff

The pace of Minnesota’s COVID-19 outbreak continued to slow over the weekend, and the number of cases requiring hospitalization dropped to a level not seen since May 1 — but state health officials in recent days warned the situation could take a turn for the worse if safety measures aren’t followed.

“The positive news is that many of our indicators are neutral or slightly positive,” Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said Friday, adding that while it was cause for celebration, “we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Ehresmann implored people to continue wearing masks in public spaces and keep social distancing. People who feel flu-like symptoms should get tested and people who feel ill should stay home.

On Sunday, Minnesota reported 311 new cases and 15 new deaths from COVID-19. Over the past week, the state has averaged less than 400 new cases per day — far less than the 700 daily cases the state was seeing in late May.

That decline in new cases has happened even as the state tests more people for the disease: an average of more than 10,000 per day, up from about 7,500 per day in late May.

The deaths reported Sunday included 11 residents of long-term care facilities. Eight of the 15 deaths were in Ramsey County, with four in Hennepin County and one each in Blue Earth, Dakota and Stearns counties.

Sunday’s report from the Minnesota Department of Health showed 369 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota, down from 390 the previous day. It’s the lowest that number has been since May 1; it peaked at 606 on May 28.

The number of those current patients in ICUs dropped slightly to 186 in Sunday’s report.

Overall, more than 30,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 1,300 Minnesotans have died — many of them elderly residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Most Minnesotans who have tested positive have now recovered, but more than 4 percent have died and about 1 percent remain in the hospital.

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

That includes Mower County in southeastern Minnesota, where there were 650 confirmed cases as of Sunday.

That puts Mower County second to Nobles County in cases per capita, according to an MPR News analysis.

Mower County is home to Hormel Foods and Quality Pork Processors, both of which say they’re partnering with Mayo Clinic to ramp up employee testing.

At Hormel, officials said they anticipated that by early this week, they’d have 40 active cases among employees. They expect that an additional 39 people who’ve already tested positive will have recovered by then.

Quality Pork Producers has at least 90 employees with active cases, and 100 more who have recovered.

While some of Mower County’s positive cases are associated with people who work in the facilities and with the people they live with, county officials say they are also seeing transmission among people who live in Mower County but who work in other counties where coronavirus is present.

In southwestern Minnesota, Nobles County reported 1,620 confirmed cases as of Sunday. In mid-April, there were just a handful of cases. Roughly 1 in 14 people now have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, although the increases are coming at a much slower rate than earlier in the epidemic.

Worthington’s massive JBS pork processing plant was the epicenter of the Nobles outbreak. The JBS plant shut 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 — skyrocketed in May.

An undisclosed number of workers at both plants have tested positive for the virus. There were about 55 confirmed cases in Stearns County in early May. By Sunday, confirmed cases were at 2,107 with 19 deaths.

Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota is also seeing cases continue to climb more than 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.

As of Sunday, the Health Department reported 546 people have now tested positive in the county.