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The Associated PressThe Free Press and MPR News

MANKATO — South-central Minnesota’s 15 new COVID-19 cases bring the region’s total to at least 387 cases since the pandemic began.

The new cases were confirmed in Blue Earth, Nicollet, Waseca, Le Sueur and Martin counties, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Brown, Watonwan, Faribault and Sibley counties had no new cases.

The region’s new cases include:

• Six in Blue Earth County, which has had 93 total cases

• Four in Nicollet County, which has had 43 total cases

•One in Waseca County, which has had 21 total cases

• One in Le Sueur County, which has had 36 total cases

• Three in Martin County, which has had 123 total cases

Of Blue Earth County’s 93 cases, 35 have recovered enough to no longer need isolation. The county has no reported COVID-19 deaths yet, but it has one long-term care facility with known COVID-19 exposures, Pillars of Mankato.

The state only lists exposures at long-term care facilities with more than 10 residents. Pillars of Mankato is one of five facilities where COVID-19 exposures have been identified in south-central Minnesota.

Statewide cases rose by 665 Tuesday, upping the state’s total to 17,029 since the pandemic began. Of the 17,029 confirmed cases, 11,540 have recovered enough to no longer need isolation.

The state’s COVID-19 death toll is now 748 after 17 more Minnesotans who had the illness were reported dead. Health officials warn the total could reach 1,000 by the end of May.

As the death toll rises, state officials say they’ll roll out a plan Wednesday that will allow people back into Minnesota bars, restaurants and other public gathering places.

Details weren’t available, but Steve Grove, the state’s commissioner of employment and economic development, wrote on Twitter that state leaders will unveil “phased plans” for those high-traffic venues, which have taken a huge economic hit during the pandemic.

Even as they inch the state back toward normalcy — the state’s two-month stay-at-home order came to an end Monday — officials continue to implore Minnesotans to wear masks outdoors and keep their distance from others.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he won’t hesitate to re-tighten restrictions if coronavirus cases shoot up and hospitals come under strain.

He kept the stay-home order in place for nearly two months to check the spread of the disease and push back the expected peak so it would not overwhelm the state’s health care system.

, one of his biggest fears. While deaths, case counts and hospitalizations are still growing, there are signs now that the strategy is paying off despite the economic pain it triggered.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Tuesday noted that the time it now takes for case counts to double is stretching out longer — about 13 days currently — helping to make the spread of the disease more manageable. Health officials say they’re watching several key metrics to gauge if the disease is accelerating as restrictions are lowered. Among them: the number of days it takes for cases to double, the amount of daily testing, the proportion of positive tests and the level of community spread that can’t be traced to specific contacts — an indication the disease might be more widespread.

The state continues to add investigators to contact those infected and work to reach others who might have had contact with them and might also be potentially infected.

Even as that tracing work intensifies, it’s possible that many who became infected may never know the source of the infection given that people with no symptoms can have the coronavirus and unknowingly pass it on.

Despite the investigation and tracing efforts, “not everyone is going to be able to say ‘I got it from Fred’ or ‘I got it from Frieda,’” said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director. “For many situations, you may not know where you picked it up.”

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