4 more area COVID-19 deaths amid month of significant spread
October has brought with it a significant uptick in positive cases in the seven-county region along with increases in more serious impacts of the virus, such as hospitalizations and deaths.
The increase in COVID-19 cases in the Brainerd lakes area and surrounding counties did not slow over the weekend, instead continuing the swift upward swing that has picked up the pace during the last six weeks.
Four more deaths among area residents were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health since Friday, Oct. 16 — an Aitkin County resident aged 85-89, a 78-year-old Cass County man, a Mille Lacs County resident aged 85-89 and a Morrison County resident, who joined another resident in becoming the fifth and sixth deaths reported there. Morrison County reported those deaths occurred in a person in their 70s and a person in their 80s, one of whom lived in a congregate care facility.
October has brought with it a significant uptick in positive cases in the seven-county region along with increases in more serious impacts of the virus, such as hospitalizations and deaths. Of the 3,216 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in residents of Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties, 40% have occurred in the month of October, with nearly two weeks remaining in the month.
Morrison County leads the way in terms of total cases reported this month — 314 as of Monday, Oct. 19, which represents a 107% increase in cases there since Oct. 1, bringing the total to 607. Morrison County, which is slightly more than half as large as Crow Wing County by population, reports a per capita rate higher than Crow Wing’s by more than 46 cases per 10,000 people. In Morrison, 181.81 residents per 10,000 have tested positive, while in Crow Wing County, the rate is 135.27.
Of all counties in the area, Wadena County has experienced the biggest change in numbers this month, increasing from 74 on Oct. 1 to 188 as of Monday, or a 154% increase. With about one-fifth of Crow Wing’s population, Wadena’s per capita rate is now slightly higher than its larger neighbor to the east — 137.41 positive cases per 10,000 people.
Brad Vold, public health/social services director for Morrison County, described the sustained steep increase in cases in his county as “not a pleasant surprise by any stretch” during a phone interview Monday.
“I wish we had a better handle on why so we could maybe find some strategies to mitigate, but it seems pretty spread out in terms of where the cases are coming from,” Vold said. “Before they were kind of concentrated in Pierz and Little Falls, and now it seems they’re beginning to spread in other areas of the county.”
Vold said many of those who’ve tested positive in Morrison County aren’t sure where they may have contracted the virus and are reporting visiting multiple locations in the immediate span of days before testing positive. The impacts are widespread, Vold noted — multiple positives among families living in the same home, workplaces with outbreaks, bars and restaurants with multiple cases tied to those locations, and most recently, a long-term care facility Vold said has experienced an increase in cases. Six of the congregate care facilities currently listed on the health department’s website as having exposures of the virus are located in Morrison County.
Vold said if cases continue at these rates, he expects schools in the county to have to make difficult decisions about learning models for area students.
“We meet with them on a weekly basis to talk about our case rate data, and as cases increase, it certainly will affect what schools are able to accomplish,” Vold said. “ … Staffing could be an issue for schools and workplaces.”
Later Monday, the Little Falls Community Schools Board of Education voted in favor of a recommendation from Superintendent Stephen Jones to send all students in the district into full distance learning in response to the precipitous increase in COVID-19 positives. The change goes into effect Oct. 26 and distance learning will continue indefinitely.
COVID-19 data as of Oct. 19
Aitkin — 154 (+14 since Friday, Oct. 16), with two (+1) deaths.
Cass — 311 (+22), with five (+1) deaths.
Crow Wing — 880 (+73), with 21 deaths.
Mille Lacs — 352 (+23), with eight (+1) deaths.
Morrison — 536 (+71), with six (+1) deaths.
Todd — 723 (+66), with two deaths.
Wadena — 188 (+18).
NOTE: These numbers are cumulative since March 21 and many are out of isolation. The number of those no longer needing isolation is not reported on a county-level basis by the state.