by CHRIS ROGERS
The speed of new coronavirus infections is holding steady to increasing across the region, three more staff members at a Winona nursing home have tested positive, Trempealeau County reported its second COVID-19 death on Thursday, and that county is nearing the red zone, where distance learning is recommended for schools. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a mask mandate starting tomorrow, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz set guidelines for school reopening.
Three more staff test positive at Saint Anne
In rounds of facility-wide testing, the nursing home Saint Anne of Winona reported that three staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-July. They were quarantined and have since recovered and returned to work.
Now, in another round of all-staff-all-resident testing, three more staff members have tested positive and are in quarantine, the nursing home reported on Thursday. “As of July 30, none of our residents have tested positive for coronavirus,” Executive Director Carol Ehlinger wrote.
“At this time, we are in very close communications with our state and local health officials to ensure we are taking all appropriate steps,” Ehlinger added. “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. We continue to monitor residents and associates for signs and symptoms of the virus.”
Tremplo. Co. nears severe status
A second Trempealeau County citizen died as a result of COVID-19, county health officials reported Thursday. The county had 44 new cases in the last seven days. Its weekly case counts have wavered between 30-55 this month. The total number of cases now stands at 305.
“We are still on the edge of moving to severe risk,” Trempealeau County Health Department Public Information Officer Kaila Baer wrote in a press release this week. Local public health departments in Wisconsin are using a system called the Coulee COVID-19 Compass to dial up and down their recommendations for restricting or reopening public life based on how bad the virus is and how close it is to overwhelming health departments and hospitals. “Severe risk” is the highest level, where health officials recommend schools teach students remotely, citizens stay home except for essential errands, and restaurants offer take-out and delivery only. La Crosse County is currently in that category.
For weeks, the spread of the virus has been bad enough to put the Trempealeau County in the red zone, but the ability of contact tracers to keep up with those new cases has been the county’s saving grace, keeping out of severe risk territory. Baer said she is concerned that could change. “The more cases that we have, the more people we have to contact … Eventually, even though we keep hiring contact tracers, eventually we’re going to see an issue where we aren’t going to be able to contact them,” she explained.
“We need your help to slow the spread, keep businesses open, and for schools to feel safe in their operations. Do your part by following our physical distancing and mask recommendations whenever you leave your home,” Baer stated.
Winona County infections still on upward trend
Winona County reported 43 new infections in the last seven days. That’s not a significant increase from mid-July, but over the course of the month, the speed of new infections has been accelerating. The county’s case total is now 240.
There have been no new deaths in the county since mid-July. A weekly public health bulletin from July 29 suggested that one Winona County citizen was recently admitted to an intensive care unit for COVID-19, though county officials could not confirm that, citing patient privacy rules.
The same bulletin indicates that roughly 13 children and teenagers have been infected with the coronavirus in Winona County this month as have a similar number of people over age 60. Young adults still make up the lion’s share of recent Winona County COVID-19 cases, but this month’s figures represent the largest number of people over 60 infected since April, according to county data.
The county recently started releasing data on total COVID-19 cases by zip code. That shows that the vast majority of cases — 201 cases of out of 231 as of Wednesday — are in the 55987 area, which includes Winona, Goodview, Stockton, and rural land as far south as Pickwick. St. Charles’ 55972 zip code was the second highest with 11 cases, and 19 other cases were spread out throughout the county, according to the report.
In Buffalo, Fillmore, and Houston counties, the speed of new infections was relatively slow and stable, with seven new cases in as many days for Buffalo County, six new cases in that time for Fillmore County, and four for Houston County. The virus appears to spreading a little faster in Wabasha County, which had 14 new cases this week.
The speed of new cases in Rochester’s Olmsted County has been hovering around 100-110 cases per week for the last two weeks. The county reported two new deaths this week.
Find more information on COVID-19, how to protect yourself and your community, and what to do if you get sick from the Minnesota Department of Health, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and the CDC.