It’s here: County reports its first COVID-19 case

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher
Swift County Monitor-News

Swift County reported its first case of COVID-19 disease Monday when a person was reported to have tested positive. Official confirmation of the case was expected from the Minnesota Department of Health later Tuesday after the Monitor-News had gone to press.

The person is in her 20s and her contracting the disease is likely travel related. She is currently following Minnesota Department of Health recommendations and self-isolating at home in Benson.

Swift County’s first case comes one month after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state March 6. The diagnosis brings the reality of the deadly virus to the county and underscores the necessity for strict observation of the social distancing measures the community has been repeatedly urged to follow in recent weeks.

As of Monday, Minnesota had reported 30 deaths from COVID-19 with 57 people in intensive care units and another 58 hospitalized. The state was expected to reach 1,000 cases Tuesday. So far, 470 people diagnosed with the viral disease have recovered.

Over 365,000 cases have been confirmed in the United States with close to 11,000 deaths.

Swift County became the 63rd county of Minnesota’s 87 counties to report at least one case of COVID-19.

When a case is identified in a county it reveals what most medical experts believe is simply the first of a wave of cases that could be coming.

In a story in the New York Times Monday, its reporters look into how a county can assess if the coronavirus has reached an epidemic level locally.

“As the coronavirus spreads silently through American cities and towns, people are struggling with questions about the benefits of social-distancing guidelines — especially in places that still have few reported cases,” its reporters write.

“Is the epidemic here yet? Is staying home and limiting contact with others really worth the trouble?

“A new study by disease modelers at the University of Texas at Austin gives an answer: Even counties with just a single reported case have more than 50 percent likelihood that a sustained, undetected outbreak — an epidemic — is already taking place.”

     Chance of
Cases    community transmission
0    9%
1    51%
2    70%
3    79%
4    84%
5    85%
10    95%
20    99%
43 or more    100%

If there are two cases, then the odds of a sustained outbreak rise to 70 percent and with five cases the odds climb to 85 percent.

“I worry that many local officials are waiting until there is clear evidence of local transmission before taking action,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of biology and statistics at the university, told the Times reporters. “The message is, we should not wait.”

Infectious disease experts also believe that there are many more COVID-19 cases that have been identified through testing because, so few tests have been conducted. Many who suspect they might have the disease have not been tested because of an extreme shortage testing supplies.

Walz considers extending social distancing order

From Minnesota Public Radio

As the count of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continues to rise, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he’ll decide in the next two days on whether to renew his current two-week, stay-at-home order. However, he strongly indicated some restrictions will continue past Friday as officials work to manage the disease’s spread.

“Many of the things — I think I’m not speaking out of order here — will be kept in place because they work. I think we’ve already indicated that around restaurants, schools, there may be others, Walz said, adding, “if there are ways to get some of these things going again we should try and do that.”

Minnesota is still preparing for a surge of hospitalizations, although the state remains among the lowest in the country in per capita infection rates, he said. “We might end up with more hospital beds than we needed, but that is a much better situation than winding up with too few.”

As in other briefings, Walz and other state health leaders acknowledged the trauma caused by the disease, the economic fallout and how the immediate future remains cloudy. “I know that the unknowns in this make it so frustrating,” he said.

Beyond the updates on cases and deaths, the Health Department Monday noted:

Among those who have died in Minnesota, ages run from 58 to 100. The most recent: a 98-year-old Ramsey County person who’d been in an assisted living facility.

More than one-third of COVID-19 cases are now considered to have come from community spread, the greatest likely source of exposure to this point.

Sixty-two of 87 Minnesota counties now have at least one case. Murray and Redwood counties joined the list.

Martin County on the Minnesota-Iowa border continues to account for the largest number of cases outside of the Twin Cities metro area and Rochester. The county has seen 33 cases and four deaths.

The Health Department Monday also began listing deaths by county, including Hennepin with 14, Martin with four and Ramsey with three. Dakota, Olmsted and Winona counties each have two deaths. Chisago, Scott and Washington each have one.

Asked about patterns in the spread, Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, said health investigators have detected large family cluster cases, but not a so-called “super spreader” case where one individual or event are attributed to a mass COVID-19 spread.

Joe Kelly, the state’s emergency management chief, said officials have evaluated more than two dozen sites around the state that could be staged as makeshift hospitals and accommodate some 2,700 beds, including former nursing homes and old hospitals. He’s pushing to get some of those sites set up soon.

Cases spread silently

People who have been infected and have mild symptoms, or none at all, can pass the disease to others, The Times reports.  Those cases, often undetected, are a prime driver of the outbreaks, Dr. Meyers said. Even in counties with no reported cases, there is roughly a 9 percent chance that an undetected outbreak is already underway, she said.

For those reasons, social distancing should be practiced across the United States, whether an outbreak now is visible or not, Dr. Meyers said.

“This virus spreads quickly and sometimes silently,” she said. “It’s an unseen threat, and by the time you see it, it can be too late to intervene. You have to intervene proactively against threats you can’t see.”

Social distancing can slow those outbreaks, giving local hospitals and other healthcare facilities time to handle the cases rather than being quickly overwhelmed, Dr. Meyers said.

“Most of us are probably living in communities where this virus is beginning to spread widely,” she said. “The prudent measures at this point are doing whatever possible to prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to an uninfected person. The common theme is do what you can to keep people from congregating.”

For more on this story, and to keep up on all the latest in area sports, subscribe to the Swift County Monitor-News print edition or our PDF internet edition. Call 320-843-4111 and you can get all the local news and sports delivered to you!

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