by CHRIS ROGERS
The level of coronavirus transmission in Winona is bad but stable for now. After reaching a high of 24 infections per day last week, the county’s seven-day average declined slightly to around 18 cases per day as of press time on Tuesday. That’s still enough to make Winona County the second-worst county in the state and among the 150 worst localities in the U.S. for new infections per capita, according to Harvard and Brown universities’ COVID tracker.
It is not just college students. Other age groups are also seeing higher infection rates, too, following a major outbreak at Winona State University (WSU), where students and employees made up 80 percent of the county’s 120-case surge from August 25-30. In the last week, there were on average 10 infections per day among children and adults 25 or older, according to county data. That’s more than double the daily average for all age groups before the August 27 spike. Public health officials have been warning that infections among young adults could spread throughout communities.
These recent numbers could force elementary schools online. The number of reported cases now puts Winona County’s 14-day per capita case rate at nearly 55. More refined, official numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) won’t fully reflect the recent surge for another week — the MDH waits two weeks to allow for lagging test results. However, if the official number tops 50 cases per capita, MDH guidelines would recommend distance learning for all age groups.
Asked what citizens should do to help others and protect themselves, Winona County Public Health Supervisor Melanie Tatge said, “They should take those COVID-19 precautions seriously: social distancing of six feet apart with a mask. Wear the mask properly, meaning it’s fitted over your nose and mouth … Wash your hands. Practice all of those precautions.”
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) leaders said part of the reason for recent upticks in cases statewide is that, while many people are doing a good job, “Too many are starting to ignore our recommendations.”
“Please: Do your part,” Winona city officials asked all citizens, urging them to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and wash their hands.
On Sunday, city staff also recommended limiting social gatherings to even smaller groups than Gov. Tim Walz’s Stay Safe order requires. The state rule is 10 people inside or 25 outside. Citing the surge in infections, city officials asked residents not to hold social gatherings with more than five people indoors or 10 people outdoors. “Also, please, wear masks EVEN OUTDOORS if you’re in groups — they make a big difference,” city staff asked.
Significant increase in Buffalo County
“Please continue to do your part to protect yourself and others,” local public health officials asked in Buffalo County, where infections are also up significantly. “Limit interactions with those outside your household, wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and wear a face covering when around others outside your household.”
Buffalo County’s weekly infection total reached 26 as of Tuesday — more than double what it was at the end of August.
In Trempealeau County, new infections rose last week, then slowed over the holiday weekend. The county had 20 cases in the last seven days.
Transmission rates in La Crosse County are relatively high, with 149 new cases this past week. In Rochester’s Olmsted County, the number of new infections has improved recently: 79 cases in seven days.
Resident tests positive at Winona nursing home
A resident at Saint Anne of Winona tested positive for COVID-19, executive director Carol Ehlinger reported on Monday. “Per our protocol, we have this individual isolated in our special care unit with staff dedicated to care for them,” she wrote in a message to families.
This is the first infection of a long-term care facility resident in Winona County in months.
Earlier this month, three staff members at the nursing home tested positive. On September 4, Saint Anne of Winona conducted facility-wide testing and has begun receiving the results of that testing, according to Ehlinger. “All our associates are following the latest infection control protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and our state and local health departments,” she stated, adding, “As we navigate this challenge, we are especially grateful for our dedicated caregivers, who are working tirelessly to ensure a clean, safe environment for all who live and work here. We all remain focused on providing exceptional care and services for all our residents.”
Got symptoms? Get tested and isolate
Symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, shortness of breath or difficult breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In Winona, COVID-19 tests are available at the Winona Health Urgent Care clinic at 855 Mankato Avenue and at the Gundersen Health System Winona campus at 1122 West Highway 61. More information is available at www.winonahealth.org or www.gundersenhealth.org.
Winona County officials also urged residents to return calls from contact tracers and to follow quarantine and isolation guidelines. If finances are a struggle while in isolation or quarantine and not working, contact Winona Volunteer Services at 507-452-5591 or Winona County Health and Human Services at 507-457-6500 for help, they advised.
Tell us your COVID-19 story. Contact reporter Chris Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.