by CHRIS ROGERS and ALEXANDRA RETTER
Despite falling over the past week, local COVID transmission remains high, local schools reported a number of new cases, and hospital capacity remains tight.
There were 196 new cases in Winona County this week, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). That is down from 251 last week, which was the highest number at any point in 2021.
Is this month’s spike in cases a sign of a coming winter surge? “As for a surge, right now the MDH is predicting that this surge shouldn’t be as high as last fall, but it’s way too soon to tell,” Winona County Public Health Supervisor Melanie Tatge said. “It is concerning with the hospitals already at max,” she added.
There were no new hospitalizations in Winona County this week, but statewide, COVID hospitalizations have risen to the second-highest level of the entire pandemic, with 778 Minnesotans admitted last week and 88 needing intensive care, according to MDH.
Deaths from the virus have also risen this fall, though not as sharply, with 117 Minnesotans dying last week, including one Winona County resident in their early 90s.
Hospital capacity remains tight, with Southeast Minnesota hospitals operating at 94 percent capacity and a total of five intensive care beds available in this corner of the state, according to the state government. The U.S. Department of Defense recently mobilized medical teams to relieve hospitals in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minn., and 400 Minnesota National Guard members were tasked this week with aiding health care providers across the state.
Vaccinations provide protection against the virus. According to the MDH, Minnesotans who are not fully vaccinated made up 80 percent of all infections, 93 percent of all hospitalizations, and 95 percent of all deaths, as of early October, the latest data available.
More cases at local schools
Winona Area Public Schools experienced an uptick in COVID cases last week as it posted the highest number of cases it has had in a single week since the start of the school year. There were 17 new cases from November 11 to 17. “We did see a bigger presence of positive cases in the building,” Superintendent Annette Freiheit said. The cases are spread throughout the district, she said.
Cotter Schools also reported eight new cases last week, four at the elementary and pre-K level, and six at the fifth grade through high school level. Eleven students are in quarantine, according to Cotter’s COVID dashboard. School officials were not immediately available for comment.
At WAPS, Freiheit added that many of the recent cases are due to exposure to COVID from a family or community member. She also said that the district has been able to keep the number of students in quarantine down due to vaccination and proper mask wearing.
The district is responding by continuing its protocols for isolating those who test positive for COVID and quarantining those who are close contacts of those who test positive for COVID.
Boosters authorized for all adults
Last Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) authorized COVID vaccine booster shots for all adults. Previously, boosters had been restricted to individuals at high-risk due to age, employment or living environment, or medical conditions.
“What we’ve seen is that the efficacy of all three COVID vaccines currently on the market starts to wane,” Tatge said. The protection the vaccines offer starts to drop off after six months for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and after two months for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, she explained. “So what a booster does is it boosts someone’s immunity back up to that 85-95 percent for a longer duration of time,” Tatge said.
From the local to the federal level, health officials are urging citizens to get vaccinated and get booster shots. In Winona, vaccinations are available at Winona Health, Gundersen Health System, Winona County clinics (see page 3B for details), and most pharmacies. For more information about COVID vaccines and for a listing of all local vaccination sites, visit www.vaccines.gov.