by CHRIS ROGERS
Two more Winona County residents tested positive for COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported on Thursday, bringing the total to four lab-confirmed cases in the county.
The latest individuals to test positive are both are over 80 years old and both live at the same congregate living facility as the first two cases reported on Wednesday. While MDH policy prevents the agency from identifying specific facilities, the administrator of Sauer Health Care told the Post on Tuesday that two residents of the Winona nursing home had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
All four cases are believe to be caused by 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.”
Now, health officials are working with the local facility to control the virus and protect its other residents and staff.
“The MDH is working with any congregate living location in which a confirmed case of COVID-19 is identified,” Ehresmann wrote in an email. “We provide the setting with information on infection prevention practices (isolation of cases, cohort ill patients, recommend patients remain in their rooms, ensure staff use PPE [personal protective equipment]) ask them assess all residents for symptoms.”
PPE includes respirators, face masks, goggles, face shields, gowns, and gloves used to protect workers and residents from infection. While local authorities have said that local supplies of PPE would not last long if there was a major outbreak in the area, Ehresmann said the MDH is ensuring the facility has access to state supplies of PPE.
“We are in daily contact with these facilities. We are also working to ensure they have access to PPE through the State Emergency Operations Center,” Ehresmann wrote.
On Tuesday, the La Crosse County Public Health Department also reported community transmission of COVID-19 was happening in the La Crosse, Wis., area. La Crosse County has 14 cases as of Thursday.
As of Thursday, Rochester’s Olmsted County now has 29 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Wabasha County has four. Rushford’s Fillmore County has three.
With limited testing of the general public, Minnesota health officials have warned 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, leaders stressed.
For more information on how to protect your community and yourself, visit the MDH and U.S. Centers for Disease Control websites.