Months-old test results fuel 100-case surge in Winona County




Today, Winona County reported 100 new COVID-19 cases — the largest single-day total yet. However, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials said that the majority of those cases — 74 of them — are at least a week old and many are weeks and even months old, the result of a delay in the infection-reporting process.

The old cases date all the way back to July 10, according to the MDH. Of the 100 cases reported today, two come from specimens collected in from mid-July, 41 are from late August, and another 57 were collected this month, MDH officials reported.

Test results for people with out-of-state addresses are reported to their home state, then — once that state realizes the person actually lives in Minnesota — they are relayed to the MDH, MDH Information Officer Doug Schultz explained in an email. These specimens were collected by Winona Health and processed by Mayo Clinic Laboratories. The lab properly reported these cases to the patients’ states of residence, but there was a delay in the patients’ home states reporting the cases to MDH, Schultz explained.

The fallout of this delay is that public health officials in Minnesota were unable to do contact tracing for these cases and identify other people who were exposed and might have been infected, Schultz explained. Winona Health officials said they alerted patients to their positive test results immediately.

On one hand, some local leaders said the fact that today’s huge number of positive test results are predominately from old infections as reassuring. There aren’t 100, new active infections, and that’s a good thing, they said. “These are past cases,” Sanness said. “Most people are done quarantining or isolating.” She continued, “We should consider it an outlier. It’s an unusual situation. We don’t need to panic or show concern.”

"We want to assure the community that these are old cases," City Manager Steve Sarvi said in a press release. City officials wrote that Friday’s numbers won’t impact their decision making about what steps to take, and they encouraged businesses and residents not to let it impact theirs either.  "The last thing we want to see is our schools, businesses, and community partners making changes or decisions solely based on Friday's numbers,” Sarvi added.

Still, the delay prevented contact tracing from slowing the virus’ spread. Earlier reporting — especially from the late August time period — might have alerted public health officials and citizens sooner to the surge in cases Winona saw at the end of August and helped inform actions to mitigate the virus’ spread.

“Of course, it’s concerning,” Sanness said. MDH officials, Winona County Public Health, and local health care providers are reviewing why the delay happened, she continued. “We’ll have discussions with MDH, which contracts with different agencies to provide test processing, to assure this doesn’t happen again, that there are processes in place to assure that, and that things happen in a timely way,” Sanness stated.


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