by CHRIS ROGERS
It may have been happening for a while, but now it’s official: There is community spread of COVID-19 happening in Winona County.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported on Wednesday that two Winona County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the county’s first lab-confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Both cases were linked to community transmission rather than travel, meaning that the two individuals caught the virus from other infected-but-undiagnosed people in the Winona area, health officials explained in interviews and emails.
“It’s in the community,” MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said in an interview. “There is community transmission occurring across the state, including in Winona County,” she wrote in an email. “[That means] adhering to community mitigation guidance and staying home when sick are even more important.”
With limited testing of the general public, Minnesota health officials have warned for over a week that there is likely widespread community transmission of COVID-19 happening in Minnesota and everyone should assume the virus is present in their community and take the recommended precautions. The choices individuals make to follow these precautions will help save lives, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz stressed.
"These cases include two individuals over the age of 70," Winona County Health and Human Services officials wrote in a press release. "No other identifying information can be shared to protect their privacy."
"These patients are in isolation and recovering," county officials continued. "Winona County Health and Human Services is working with MDH and health care partners to address the needs of these patients and provide guidance to others who may have contact with them. If an individual of the public has been in direct contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19, they will be contacted by someone from the MDH."
The MDH announcement followed a report on Tuesday by a Winona nursing home that two of its residents have tested positive. MDH officials confirmed the two cases were at a congregate living facility in Winona, a catch-all term that includes nursing homes, but explained that privacy rules prevent the agency from identifying specific facilities.
On Tuesday, Sauer Health Care Administrator Sara Blair said two residents at the Winona nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We have two confirmed cases here,” Blair told the Post on Tuesday.
“We’ve called our families and we’ve spoken to our residents,” Blair said. “We’re trying to be extremely transparent,” she added.
Two family members of residents posted online about the news earlier on Tuesday, saying they had received calls from the nursing home explaining the situation.
The MDH still does not know exactly how the virus spread to these individuals or through whom. Health officials are researching who was in contact with the infected people to try to limit the further spread of the disease.
“MDH staff do a case investigation to learn about the individual’s symptom history, possible exposures, and activities in the day just before and while symptomatic,” Ehresmann explained. “Potential contacts are identified. We have a team that then reaches out to contacts to let them know the recommendations.” She continued, “Our recommendations depend on the type of exposure (high risk, medium risk or low risk). For high risk (household or other intimate contacts) the recommendation is for 14 days of quarantine. Medium risk is close contact (within 6 feet for an hour) and would be self-isolation (though [they] can get groceries, etc.).”
"The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to influenza," Winona County health officials advised. "It can also spread when people touch surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. Winona County Health and Human Services would like to stress again the importance of continuing to do the things that can limit the spread of the coronavirus:
- Stay home and away from others if you are sick.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or tissue.
- Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your face."
How should people react to this news? “We need to following the guidelines that are outlined in the press release,” Winona County Health and Human Services Director Karen Sanness said. “Washing your hands, practicing social distancing, self-quarantining if you are around anyone who has COVID-19, and go home. Stay home, and work from home.”
For more information on how to protect your community and yourself, visit the MDH and U.S. Centers for Disease Control websites.