by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona’s coronavirus situation is not good, but it didn’t get exponentially worse this week. For the moment at least, new infections have plateaued at a high level in Winona County. The county didn’t see any single day as bad as last Thursday — when 37 cases came in one day — but the numbers have been consistently high: averaging 23 cases per day this week. It is still by far the highest level of spread in the area since the pandemic began.
Winona County’s 14-day case rate is still rising. While more refined, official MDH numbers won’t reflect the recent surge for another week or two — the MDH waits to allow for lagging test results — the county has reported nearly 45 new cases per 10,000 residents in the last 14 days. At 50 cases per capita, MDH recommends all K-12 schools switch to online-only education.
Already, the surge has caused Winona Area Public Schools to switch from hybrid learning for all ages to distance learning only for secondary students. Even in St. Charles, where there have relatively few infections, the spike prompted school district leaders to move from in-person elementary classes to a hybrid of in-person and distance learning.
Winona State University (WSU) students and staff made up 80 percent of last week’s surge — more up to date figures won’t be available until next week. “It’s just unfortunate that there is a lack of control over what they can do to restrict young adults’ social activities. I’ll leave it at that,” Winona County Health and Human Services Director Karen Sanness said.
The WSU outbreak affects everyone in the Winona area. “I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, this is just a higher education institution thing. This is just happening in campuses.’ … There is community spread everywhere,” Winona County Public Health Supervisor Melanie Tatge stated. “It’s all connected,” Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said of outbreaks at colleges leading to more widespread community transmission.
Local and state health officials said the key to getting the virus under control is for everyone to follow basic precautions: wear a mask in public, stay six feet apart from others, avoid crowds, wash their hands, and stay home when sick or when isolating after a potential exposure to COVID-19. Winona County officials also urged residents to return calls from contact tracers, be honest with contact tracers, and to follow quarantine and isolation guidelines. If finances are a struggle while in isolation or quarantine, contact Winona Volunteer Services or Winona County Health and Human Services for help, they advised.
Infections rising in Buffalo County
With 15 new cases in the last two days, Buffalo County is the midst of its worst surge so far. Last Friday, the weekly total was seven new infections. Today it’s 26.
“Please continue to do your part to protect yourself and others,” local health officials asked citizens. “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.”
In Trempealeau County, cases are creeping up again — 26 this week, compared to 17 last week. The vast majority of new cases are among Arcadia residents, the county reported.
Elsewhere in the region, new infections were up significantly in La Crosse County. With 153 cases in the last week, that’s nearly as bad as La Crosse’s June surge. New infections were low in Fillmore County, with four this week; rising slightly in Houston County, with 13 new infections in seven days; and more or less steady in Wabasha County and Rochester’s Olmsted County.
More staff, zero residents, test positive at Winona nursing home
Three more staff members at the nursing home Saint Anne of Winona tested positive for COVID-19 this week and are in isolation, according to the nursing home. A total of 11 staff member shave tested positive over the course of the summer, but so far, no residents have.
“Beginning in March, we implemented all recommended guidance from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and our state and local health departments to protect our residents and staff,” Saint Anne of Winona Executive Director Carol Ehlinger wrote.
Under MDH guidelines, the new infections have prevented the nursing home from allowing in-person visits from family.
Tell us your COVID-19 story. Contact reporter Chris Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.