A spike in hospitalizations is raising alarms for the county’s public health leader as more than 200 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Crow Wing County in the past two weeks.

Since Oct. 3, the Minnesota Department of Health has reported nine new hospitalizations due to the disease caused by the coronavirus among Crow Wing County residents. This represents the single largest increase in hospitalizations in the county during a one-week period since the pandemic began as total cases edged past 700 Friday, Oct. 9.

“Where prior hospitalizations were overwhelmingly individuals in long-term care facilities, new cases are not related to individuals in long-term care,” said Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County public health supervisor. “They are from the general public. … It’s very concerning to me.”

While hospitalization for COVID-19 in general indicates a person is experiencing serious symptoms, information on whether any of those newly hospitalized patients required intensive care was unavailable Friday.

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Crow Wing and Morrison counties continue to lead among those in the area, both experiencing steep increases in case confirmations. But all area counties are ticking upward faster in recent weeks than much of the previous months of the pandemic. Moritz noted adults in the Crosby-Ironton-Deerwood area in particular are among those newly reported, mostly those in the age range of 40s to 60s.

“The Crosby-Ironton-Deerwood area has been fairly quiet for cases in that general area, but these past two weeks, it certainly has caught up with many new cases in that area,” Moritz said. “We’re trying to determine if there’s a common theme in those cases as well.”

Moritz said if there is a common link among several cases, that information is reported to the state health department for further investigation. Based upon the state’s findings, that link — whether it be a restaurant or bar, a workplace or a social or family gathering — would be considered an outbreak.

As of Friday, 22 of the 701 cases reported in Crow Wing were determined to be related to an outbreak of some kind. The majority of these cases were linked to locations or events outside of the county, according to county officials. Among the recent events tied to Crow Wing County infections were a family gathering, a college visit and a restaurant visit in the county at the end of July. Moritz noted it typically is three to four weeks after contact tracing begins before the state designates a case as tied to an outbreak.

As case numbers rise toward an expected peak in November or December according to models, Moritz said, public health officials are strongly urging residents to remain vigilant and continue to take recommended precautions.

“We’re all working very hard to keep our businesses open and keep our kids in school, and that’s going to take all of us working together, wearing masks and social distancing to reduce our case counts and slow it down,” Moritz said. “ … We all would like COVID to go away, and we would like it to go away as quickly as possible and as few cases as possible and as few deaths as possible. But we are not alone in this, it’s a pandemic and it’s worldwide. … We do need people to take this seriously. If nothing else, talk to your neighbor, neighboring business owners and ask them how much COVID has helped impact their businesses. And if nothing else, help those businesses stay open.”

Free testing clinic

Free COVID-19 testing will take place next week in Aitkin.

The walk-in testing event will be noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, and Wednesday, Oct. 14, as well as noon to 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, at The Journey North Community Church, 810 Second St. NW, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health. Attendees should enter and exit the building through different doors, according to Aitkin County.

Those who want to get tested do not need to be experiencing symptoms, nor do they need insurance. They also do not have to be Aitkin County residents. People are encouraged to register online to reduce lines and wait times. To register, visit primarybio.com/r/aitkin. Those who aren’t able to sign up online or who need a translator can call 855-612-0677.

The testing event will use nasal swabs, which will be sent to one of the Mayo Clinic laboratories or the University of Minnesota for processing.

The health department selected Aitkin as one of the locations for the state’s “no barrier” testing initiative in response to statewide community spread of COVID-19. Anoka, Faribault, Luverne, Alexandria and St. Cloud are also hosting free “no barrier” testing events Oct. 13-15.

In the last two weeks, Aitkin County has recorded more than one-third of all 111 diagnoses in the county in the last several months.

COVID-19 data as of Oct. 9

  • Aitkin — 111 (+14 since Oct. 2), with one death.

  • Cass — 247 (+41), with three deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 701 (+100), with 18 deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 220 (+39), with three deaths.

  • Morrison — 397 (+95), with one death.

  • Todd — 569 (+52), with two deaths.

  • Wadena — 111 (+37).

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.