For months, Public Health Director Amy Caron has been warning about a surge of COVID-19 cases taking place in fall, but she herself will tell you what is happening is far beyond her expectations.
“This took me off guard. I didn’t expect it to rise that quickly,” said Caron as she reported a record 384 new COVID cases over the past week. “From one week ago, we have doubled in new cases and from two weeks ago quadrupled.”
Steele County has 1,406 positive cases, including 11 hospitalizations. Among those hospitalized are “a few in the ICU unit,” though Caron didn’t have a specific number.
For the third week in a row, another death has been reported in Steele County, bringing the county’s death total to five since the pandemic began in March. The latest victim was a woman in her 80s who was not living in a long-term care facility, according to Caron.
The new cases, Caron said, are showing up in people of all ages from 1 to 90, though the biggest contributor to the new case load is 20-to-40-year olds. “This is showing we have very wide community spread,” she said. She added they cannot attribute the spike to any significant outbreaks within businesses or schools.
Despite the explosion in cases locally, the Owatonna hospital is still not at surge capacity, Caron said. However, she said, the hospital is worried about staffing shortages at the present time. Some staff members have tested positive while others are in quarantine or taking care of their own loved ones who are sick.
Caron said the COVID surge is also stretching local ambulance crews pretty thin as they are having to take on more transfers between hospitals. “It’s overloading the system,” she said of COVID.
As the virus spreads rapidly, new restrictions went into place Friday for Minnesota bars and restaurants. They are now required to close at 10 p.m. as officials aim to control the spread of what has been coming from 20-to-30-year-olds most likely to be in those establishments late at night.
“It’s worth a shot,” Caron said of the new restriction. “There isn’t any great answer to any of this. We hope it will curb some of the spread.”
Caron hopes things will settle down in the coming weeks, but she’s not overly optimistic. She said her greatest concern is the upcoming holidays beginning with Thanksgiving next week.
Officials are encouraging people to not be in large groups of people. The current recommendation for getting together is for 10 or less from no more than three families. Caron says people should meet in a place where it’s larger and they can spread out more while wearing face masks.
“Everyone will have to weigh their own personal risks,” Caron said. “We should take the precautions we have been doing all along and do our best.”
Caron noted the real impact of the Thanksgiving holiday will not be known for up to two weeks after.