ROCHESTER, Minn. — State health officials on Wednesday, Sept. 23, said they have traced an outbreak of COVID-19 to a funeral two weeks ago in rural Martin County along the Iowa border.

The Sept. 9 memorial was attended by 150 to 200 persons, many of whom did not observe social distancing and masking, and began with a church service followed by a luncheon at a private residence, according to the state Department of Health.

Wednesday, Martin County reported an additional 15 cases of the illness.

"At this point we have identified 33 cases that are linked to this outbreak," state director of infectious disease Kris Ehresmann said on a news call Wednesday afternoon, "but we expect that there are probably more."

Ehresmann said the health department is aware of 17 other cases linked to the Martin County church, when counting those of shared staff from affiliated churches.

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"COVID is a disease that tends to do its worst when people congregate in crowds," Ehresmann said. "Keeping a distance, plus masking, plus avoiding crowds as much as possible is the best approach. One of them alone is rarely enough."

Funerals and weddings are considered dangerous events when it comes to the risk of spreading COVID-19. Guests generally drop their guard, hug one another, laugh and talk loudly, and in the case of funerals, cry as well, over a period of hours.

In early August, a funeral in the northwest Minnesota community of Lake Park attended by 50 people led to 30 cases and five hospitalizations.

Halloween risks and treats

Health officials Wednesday broached the subject for the first time of Halloween and COVID-19, following guidance in a recent CDC publication. It contained few surprises, listing Halloween-themed activities that were ranked as low, medium and high risk.

Low-risk activities included carving or decorating pumpkins within a household or outside at a distance with friends. Scavenger hunts, and virtual costume contests were also rated low risk.

Moderate-risk suggestions included dispensing treats at the door by leaving them in individually wrapped bags prepared after washing hands. Small, outdoor and socially distanced neighborhood costume parties and parades were considered moderate risk as well.

Higher-risk activities include traditional door-to-door handing out of candy, or dispensing candy from the trunk of cars. Crowded costume parties also are considered high risk.

Health officials stressed that a Halloween mask is not a substitute for cloth masks in preventing the spread of the illness, and that people who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has the illness should not give out candy or take part in Halloween festivities.

By the numbers

The state Wednesday reported an additional 690 cases of COVID-19, with continued spikes in Stearns (29), Clay (29) and St. Louis (28) counties.

The new cases bring the laboratory-confirmed case count to 92,100, a number believed to be an undercount since 40% of those with the illness are asymptomatic.

The state reported 10,319 tests for the day.

Six deaths were recorded for the day: One in Itasca County, two in St. Louis County and three in Hennepin County. Three of the six deaths were among residents of long-term care. The statewide death total has reached 1985.

There are now 303 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 148 in an ICU setting.

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  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
  • COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
  • Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.