COVID infections kept climbing in Winona County this week, while remaining steady in Buffalo and Trempealeau counties. Winona County health officials warned that nearby hospitals are already being strained by the surge, and some local leaders expressed concerns about how the start of colleges and schools could affect the trend. 

Winona County saw 157 new COVID infections in the last seven days, up from 122 last week and 56 the week before. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) only reported one new hospitalization for COVID in the county this week, but Winona County Public Health Supervisor Melanie Tatge said area hospitals had informed her of three other patients newly admitted for COVID. She said the discrepancy may be the result of data from Wisconsin hospitals treating Winona County residents reaching the MDH more slowly than data from Minnesota hospitals.

Statewide, hospitalizations climbed in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, and Tatge said regional care centers were beginning to feel the strain. “Gundersen Lutheran was on diversion last weekend; Mayo Clinic was on diversion,” she stated. Diversion means that hospitals are at capacity — for beds, staff, or other resources — and are sending some patients elsewhere for care. “Although that’s happening in a different county, we have to note that a lot of Winona County residents do seek medical attention in other counties … That is going to cause an issue in the future if it isn’t already.”

Tatge highlighted that young people — teens in particular — are one of the age groups most affected by recent infections. MDH leaders have encouraged children 12 and older to get vaccinated before returning to school.

“There’s things we can do to benefit the community and protect us individually, such as wearing a face covering, getting a vaccine, and adhering to quarantine and isolation,” Tatge said.

Infections were more stable in Trempealeau and Buffalo counties. There were 49 new infections in Trempealeau County this past week, down from 58 the week before. In Buffalo County, there were 26 new infections, up from 21 last week. Trempealeau County reported two new hospitalizations for COVID, and Buffalo County reported two new hospitalizations as of August 18, the latest data available.

The Pfizer vaccine received full approval on Monday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in people 16 and up, a sign of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and a development that could clear the way for more institutions to require vaccinations. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, because I know a lot of people were waiting for that reassurance,” Tatge said.