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COVID-19 increase expected as testing demand breaks Olmsted County records

Olmsted County Public Health officials say an increase in holiday-related testing has taxed local capacity.

COVID-19 coronavirus testing
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ROCHESTER — An expected increase in COVID-19 numbers is mirroring what Olmsted County experienced a year ago.

“We’re seeing the exact same trend we saw at the beginning of 2021,” Meaghan Sherden, the county’s lead epidemiologist, told county commissioners Tuesday.

A record number of cases was set in November 2021, topping the previous high mark set in November 2020 by 20 to 30 cases.

Numbers have since declined, but an increase is expected in the next two weeks.

“Mayo Clinic modeling has us around the week of Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 17) as really starting to see the peak of omicron in our community,” Sherden said.

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While January is starting to look like its 2021 counterpart, Sherden said differences exist, including increased strain on local testing.

On Dec. 23, Mayo Clinic processed more than 1,300 tests, its highest per-day tally of the pandemic.

Sherden said the numbers are a sign that people listened to public health recommendations and opted to get tested before gathering with family and friends during the holidays.

Olmsted County Public Health Associate Director Denise Daniels said the increase has prompted Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center officials to contact the county for options to overcome the added strain.

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Last week, she said more than 5,000 tests were conducted, which compares to less than 3,600 during the same period last year.

“They are having a hard time keeping up with demand,” Daniels said. Public health officials have inquired about access to potential state resources, in case demand continues, she said.

Sherden said more than 1 million new COVID cases were reported nationally on Monday, indicating that more cases likely will be reported in the state and locally.

“We know it’s coming here to Minnesota,” she said. “We’re usually around two to three weeks behind the East Coast and things like that.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Olmsted County had 556 new COVID cases in the seven-day period ending Wednesday, Dec. 29 — a 6.1% increase from the previous week, but Sherden said holidays tend to cause data delays and fluctuations.

As the cases are expected to climb, she said a promising sign is the decrease in local hospitalizations.

In mid-December, public health officials reported 25 to 27 Olmsted County residents were in the hospital with COVID, but Sherden said the number has dropped to 12.

“Our hospitalizations have started to trickle down a little bit, which is a good trend for us,” she said. The omicron variant of COVID-19 seems to come with less severe illness but is more easily spread.

Daniels said the reduced symptoms, combined with the regular flu season, can leave people uncertain about their illness and the proper response.

“We’ve always told people to stay home if you don’t feel well,” she said. “I think the testing is still important because people will say “I feel well” after one day, and they could still be contagious, if it is (COVID).”

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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