Amid national concern over clusters of COVID-19 deaths in group-living settings, Winona County officials confirmed that all 10 fatalities in the county are linked to long-term congregate-living facilities.
Winona County Administrator Ken Fritz said Sunday that the first eight people who died were residents at the Sauer Health Care long-term care facility, off U.S. Hwy. 14 in the city of Winona. Two more deaths, reported Sunday, involved people living in congregate-care settings and are believed to be linked to the same nursing home.
Officials with Sauer declined to comment Sunday after the Winona Daily News reported eight deaths are linked to the facility.
As of Sunday, Winona’s 10 deaths gave the southeastern Minnesota county the second-highest death toll in the state, behind only the much more populous Hennepin County, which has had 75 deaths. Ramsey County and St. Louis County have seen nine apiece.
“It saddens me that families cannot even come together to celebrate the life of their loved one and to provide support for one another as they grieve. This is a very sad time for our elderly population throughout the nation,” said Karen Sanness, director of health and human services in Winona County, in an e-mail.
Minnesota has recorded 134 fatalities from COVID-19, and 97 of them were people who lived in long-term care settings, including nursing homes and other senior living and care settings, according to the daily update from the Minnesota Department of Health. Ten of Sunday’s 13 reported deaths involved people in long-term care.
Minnesota now has 2,356 cases of COVID-19 that have been confirmed by testing since early March, including 1,160 people who no longer need to stay in isolation.
Sunday’s 13 deaths marked the second-highest number of fatalities reported in a single day in the state.
Across the country, more than 7,000 people “living in or connected to” nursing homes have died after getting COVID-19, the New York Times reported .
In and around Minnesota, St. Ann’s Residence in Duluth has seen five deaths and 20 COVID-19 cases, and Meridian Manor in Wayzata moved residents out after one death and 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases there.
The Minnesota Department of Health says 131 long-term care facilities in the state have reported at least one case of COVID-19, but 63 of them have only one case, spokesman Doug Schultz said in an e-mail Sunday. Thirty-nine facilities have had at least one resident death.
But one long-term care facility in the state has reported 102 COVID-19 cases, including cases of the illness among staff and residents. State officials didn’t name that facility or say where it is located.
All told, there have been 751 positive cases of COVID-19 in congregate-living settings in Minnesota, including 57 new cases reported Sunday, Schultz said.
Clusters of cases are not limited to nursing home settings, though.
Nobles County had one confirmed case a week ago; on Sunday, it had 69. The county is home to the JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, which had an outbreak that included 19 confirmed cases last week, according to officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663.
In Grand Forks County, N.D., General Electric’s wind-energy component maker LM Wind Power closed down for two weeks of deep cleaning as the county recorded a spike of 68 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. Some of the cases appear to be related to LM Wind Power.
And in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Smithfield Foods pork plant became a national COVID-19 hot spot last week, with at least 640 cases linked to the plant — more than 40% of the state’s COVID-19 caseload.
In one potentially encouraging sign in Minnesota, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms actually declined by 11 people, to 228 — the largest decline in currently hospitalized cases since the start of the outbreak in Minnesota.
While the number of people in hospital intensive-care beds increased to 116, the number in regular hospital beds declined to 112. That meant there were more people in hospital ICU beds for COVID-19 than in regular hospital beds as of the data-cutoff time at 4 p.m. the previous day.
Public health officials say the actual number of cases of COVID-19 in the state is likely much higher than the number of confirmed cases, though it’s not possible to do enough tests to reach a statistically valid estimate for population infection rates.
Nationally, the number of tests needed to identify COVID-19 cases accurately and to safely reopen the economy needs to triple by mid-May, from 146,000 tests done per day across the country to at least 500,000 a day, researchers at Harvard University have said.
In Minnesota, the state completed 1,348 COVID-19 tests in the past day, bringing the total number of tests performed statewide to about 45,700. The state’s public health lab completed just over 10,000 of those tests, with the remainder done at health care providers such as Mayo Clinic. The state is notified of all positive test results.
In Minnesota, 76 of the state’s 87 counties now have at least one confirmed case of COVID-19.
White residents accounted for 63% of the lab-confirmed cases in the state, and 75% of the deaths. The state Health Department said black residents made up 12% of the confirmed cases and 4% of the deaths. Cases can have more than one race, and about 19% of deaths lacked any racial information.
About 80% of people who get COVID-19 have mild to no symptoms, while about 5% may require critical care in the hospital. The median age of someone hospitalized for COVID-19 in Minnesota is 64, while the median age of people who have died is 85.