by CHRIS ROGERS
A fourth Winona County citizen has died from COVID-19, and four more tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total of lab-confirmed cases to 20, according to Winona County Health and Human Services Director Karen Sanness.
The fourth Winona County death was a 93-year-old resident of a congregate living facility, Sanness reported. Congregate living facility is a catch-all term for group living centers such as nursing homes.
The Minnesota Department of Health’s website — displaying data from 4 p.m. on Tuesday — reported there are 19 confirmed cases in Winona County. Sanness said a spreadsheet she received from the MDH on Tuesday night listed 20 confirmed cases. She explained that one of those cases has not been posted to the MDH site yet.
The four new infections are among people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s at congregate facilities, according to Sanness. So far, at least 18 of the 20 confirmed infections have been among congregate facility residents, while that information was not reported in two cases, according to county officials. The previous three deaths were all among residents of local congregate living facilities.
According to data reported to the county from the MDH, only one local citizen has been hospitalized for COVID-19 so far.
While many of the confirmed cases have been at group living facilities, state and local officials have warned that the virus is spreading widely in the community. Because testing for the virus is generally limited to congregate facility residents and staff, health care workers, hospitalized patients, and first responders, lab-confirmed cases of the virus are just “the tip of the iceberg,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm has said. There are far more untested cases of COVID-19, and the virus is spreading in the local community, officials caution.
How many cases does the MDH think are actually in Minnesota? MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said on Sunday the state doesn’t know for sure. “The multiplier on that, is it 10-fold? 100-fold? We don’t know exactly,” Ehresmann said, referring to the number of confirmed cases compared to the unknown total.
The spread of the virus in the local community makes it extremely important for everyone to follow guidance to stay home except for essential errands and essential work, stay six feet away from other people, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash hands and disinfect surfaces. People may be infectious without feeling sick, so just staying away from sick people is not enough to protect yourself from the virus, health experts cautioned.
“Because of the limited testing … residents should not assume there are only 16 COVID-19 cases in Winona County, nor should they believe the 16 confirmed cases are necessarily interconnected,” Winona County Public Health staff wrote. “To do so minimizes the risk that COVID-19 poses to our community.”
“We need all members of our community to their part,” county officials continued. “Do your part by complying with Governor Walz’s executive orders to limit social contact and stay safe at home. Follow the advice of the MDH, the CDC, and Winona County Public Health. Avoid unnecessary travel, maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face, and stay home when you are sick. These simple acts will save lives and will slow the spread of COVID-19 to give our healthcare system the ability to treat COVID-19 patients.”
For more information on how to protect yourself and your community, visit the MDH and U.S. Centers for Disease Control websites.