Stock COVID 3

The Minnesota Department of Health's testing lab handles samples of COVID-19.

MANKATO — New statistics released Thursday show COVID-19 testing has ramped up in south-central Minnesota over the past two weeks, but so has the percentage of positive tests.

The region has had an upward spike in new COVID-19 cases over about the same time period. Minnesota Department of Health data indicate more testing could explain why, as total tests in the region increased from 3,431 two weeks ago to 4,686 over the last week.

The uptick in the rate of positive tests, though, suggests the virus is also circulating more in most area counties than it was earlier in the pandemic.

Blue Earth County’s rate of positive cases was 8.2% for the 1,970 tests completed between June 24-July 1, according to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 report. The county’s overall percentage of positive tests during the pandemic is 5.1% out of 9,185 total tests.

Nicollet County had 651 tests completed during the most recent weekly report, with 6.1% coming back positive. The county’s overall rate of positive tests since the pandemic began is 3.6% out of 4,290 tests.

Other area counties are also seeing higher rates of positive cases than earlier in the pandemic. Watonwan County’s rate of positives actually dropped from 32% between June 17-24 to 25% between June 24-July 1, yet remained well above the county’s 14.9% positive rate overall.

The county was also the only one in the region to have fewer tests completed over the most recent week compared to the previous week, but there’s a good reason for it. The state’s weekly report is updated as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, which meant results from a big testing site open until 7 p.m. at Madelia High School wouldn’t be fully included in the numbers.

The testing site completed 611 tests Wednesday alone, said Naomi Ochsendorf, Watonwan County’s human services director.

“It’s more than what I had expected,” she said. “We would’ve considered 500 (a good day.)”

County, state and Madelia Community Hospital staff partnered for the testing site in response to rising cases in Watonwan County. Given the high percentage of positive tests in the county from past weeks, new cases should continue to jump up once results start coming back as soon as this weekend.

“The next couple weeks should see a pretty significant increase in cases,” Ochsendorf said.

Watonwan County will have another free testing site at the St. James High School Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m. South Central Healthcare Coalition Coordinator Eric Weller said organizers hope to test as many as 1,000 people next week to get a better grasp on how many total cases are in the community.

“Cases have been rising overall in the community,” he said. “MDH calls it a hotspot, so that’s why they want to do the community testing.”

People interested in receiving free tests — which aren’t limited to Watonwan County residents — should register at www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/teststjames.html. The organizers also take walks ups, although registering makes the process smoother.

Ochsendorf and Weller encouraged people to be safe over the long Fourth of July weekend, which means washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks.

“We want people to still have a good time and go out and do stuff, but really be conscious and make the right decisions,” Weller said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to a 10% rate for positive tests as cause for alarm when COVID-19 cases started skyrocketing in his state. Texas, Florida and Arizona have all recently had concerningly rising levels in recent weeks after leaders opened up society with minimal restrictions in place.

While south-central Minnesota’s rate of positive tests has ticked up over the past two weeks, only Watonwan County was above 10% in the most recent weekly report.

In the region, only Martin County had a lower percentage of positive cases during the latest reporting week than its overall percentage since the pandemic began. Since being one of the state’s earlier COVID-19 hotspots outside the Twin Cities, Martin County’s number of new cases have since slowed.

The full list of positive testing rates in area counties over the past week compared to overall is as follows:

  • Blue Earth County: 8.2% — 5.1%
  • Brown County: 4% — 2.3%
  • Faribault County: 5.4% — 4%
  • Le Sueur County: 4.1% — 3.3%
  • Martin County: 4.6% — 5.8%
  • Nicollet County: 6.1% — 3.6%
  • Sibley County: 6.1% — 5.2%
  • Waseca County: 4.3% — 2.8%
  • Watonwan County: 25% — 14.9%

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