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UPDATE: Mower COVID-19 cases now at 446

Officials expecting increase to continue

 

The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 in Mower County, raising the total to 446 confirmed cases since March 19.

Mower County Emergency Manager Amy Lammey said that Mower County Health and Human Services has been working closely with the MDH and Mayo Clinic Health System due to the rise in positive cases in the county.

“As the state loosens its guidelines and commerce picks up, we are predicting the positive cases will continue,” she said.

“As we look through data, we have found that many people who contract COVID-19 have worked while in their infectious period,” she continued. “This is causing businesses to have positive cases and quarantine some of their staff. Local Public Health is working closely with these businesses to help prevent the spread in the workplace. Mayo Clinic Health System has also worked closely with businesses that have shown a cluster of positive cases. Plans are being made to ramp up testing and assist these businesses in getting their employees tested whether employees are showing symptoms or not.”

As of Thursday, the Hormel Foods plant in Austin had seen roughly 50 cases since the pandemic began, according to Hormel Vice President of Quality Management Richard Carlson. That number does not include Quality Pork Processors employees; however a StarTribune article has reported that between the two plants there have been 231 diagnosed cases, citing the Minnesota Department of Health.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, we would have loved to say success would look like zero cases, but that’s not realistic,” Carlson said. “It is one of those things that because of living situations, carpooling and social situations that we have seen an uptick.”

Carlson noted that Hormel has made efforts to provide for worker safety at its plants across the country, such as checking temperatures of employees, implementing barriers for social distancing, increasing sanitization of high-touch surfaces and making sure employees have masks and face shields. Hormel also started the “Keep COVID Out” campaign, which reminds employees to continue safety practices from work out in the community.

“We take pride in the community in which we work and live and this is an extension of that,” Carlson said.

Employees that test positive are required to stay home for 14 days with pay and may come back to work if they have not shown symptoms for 72 hours, Carlson said. Those showing symptoms are discouraged from coming to work while Hormel continues to pay them and arranges for them to get tested.

Carlson credits the steps with slowing the spread of COVID-19 at the plant.

“When you think of that number of people in an operation of this size, it’s still a pretty good track record,” he said.

Statewide, the MDH on Friday reported 712 new cases, bringing the state total to 26,980 since March 6. Of those, 2,890 cases were health care workers and an estimated 21,684 cases no longer need isolation.

The number of Mower County cases no longer in isolation is unknown; due to the situation constantly changing, the MDH no longer keeps track, choosing instead to use a formula to estimate the number no longer in isolation on a statewide level.

As of Friday, 478 Minnesotans were hospitalized, including 220 in intensive care.

The MDH also reported 33 deaths on Friday, bringing Minnesota’s death toll to 1,148 since March 21. Of those, 922 were residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities and 1,073 were aged 60 and older.

“Please remember, if you have any symptoms of illness, isolate yourself as soon as possible and reach out to your provider,” Lammey said.