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The Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — Seven south-central Minnesota counties had newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday.

The 18 combined cases in the region marked the smallest daily increase since August. Mondays and Tuesdays, however, typically have smaller case upticks than days later in the week because of reporting lags from the weekend.

Le Sueur County had the most new cases in the area with five, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Blue Earth County, usually the regional leader in new cases per day due to its higher population, only had one new case confirmed Monday. Brown, Martin, Waseca and Sibley counties joined Le Sueur County in having more than Blue Earth.

The full list of new cases in the region includes:

• Le Sueur County — Five

• Brown County — Four

• Martin County — Three

• Waseca County — Two

• Sibley County — Two

• Blue Earth County — One

• Faribault County — One

Statewide, Minnesota officials announced visitors must now be allowed if long-term care facilities haven’t had a COVID-19 exposure in the last 14 days. Another requirement for opening nursing homes is if there’s low to medium virus transmission in the county.

There are exceptions if there is a reasonable or clinical safety cause not to open, such as staffing issues.

The new rules go into effect Saturday. They are being introduced to align with new federal recommendations. Visitors still must schedule their time with the facilities, be screened for symptoms and wear masks.

Long-term care settings have long been a deep concern for the state’s public health authorities. Among the 2,144 who’ve died from COVID-19 related complications in Minnesota, about 71% had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; nearly all had underlying health problems.

Officials had placed severe visiting restrictions early on in the pandemic, hoping to stem the spread of the disease. They’ve also acknowledged the psychological toll that takes on residents and their families.

The new guidance Monday came as the latest health department report showed nearly 1,200 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, with hospitalizations approaching record levels in the pandemic.

The newest numbers come after a weekend where confirmed COVID-19 case counts rose by nearly 3,000 — the greatest two-day increase of the pandemic to date. That included a record single-day increase of 1,537 cases in Saturday’s report as testing also climbed to record levels.

“Despite what we wish is the case, COVID-19 is still a big and growing problem in Minnesota,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Monday.

Officials also confirmed more cases of COVID-19 have surfaced tied to President Donald Trump’s recent rallies in Bemidji and Duluth and Vice President Mike Pence’s recent visit to Minnesota.

They include three cases from Duluth and three from the Pence get-together Sept. 24 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Bemidji rally total is now at 16, including four who were at a counter protest, said Kris Ehresmann, the states infectious disease director.

She said the state has identified two cases tied to political events for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, one in Duluth and one in Brooklyn Park.

Officials had anticipated seeing a surge in cases expected from Labor Day weekend gatherings, sporting events and college student meetups before the start of fall semester. They also expected the wave would put more people in the hospital. That appears to be happening.

}Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola