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State lawmaker suggests Olmsted County adopt a mask mandate following COVID update

Rep. Liebling encouraged commissioners to take preventive steps as local cases continue to climb.

Tina Liebling mug
Rep. Tina Liebling
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ROCHESTER — Skyrocketing COVID numbers prompted a state lawmaker to ask Olmsted County commissioners to consider a mask mandate Monday, Jan. 10.

“I would really like to see you impose a mask mandate countywide or take some other steps like that,” Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, told commissioners during an online meeting. “I think we’re in such a bad situation.”

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County commissioners did not respond to the request, and in the past several members of the board have suggested such action is best left to the state.

Later in the day, County Board Chairman Mark Thein said commissioners haven't expressed a desire to change that stance.

"I don't see the board implementing a mask mandate at this time," he said. "We don't have the resources or the will to enforce it.

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"Our job is to inform the people of what should be done, and not make criminals out of people who are not going to follow our ordinance."

Liebling’s comment followed a report from Olmsted County Public Health Associate Director Denise Daniels, who said the county had 2,700 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 last week, with 98% of them expected to be linked to the omicron variant.

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic are charted by Olmsted County Public Health, showing the increases seen in recent weeks.
Contributed/Olmsted County Public Health

“In the last two weeks alone, we had an over 400% increase in the cases, which goes to show you just how transmissible this is,” she said.

While many people aren’t suffering symptoms as severe as those others experienced during previous COVID waves, Daniels said the health system is being overwhelmed.

“There is some narrative out there that omicron is milder,” she said. “I think it’s important to know that while many folks are experiencing milder symptoms, the sheer number of cases, because of how infectious it is, will continue to drive up our hospital admissions.”

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The number of hospital admissions by week throughout the pandemic are charted by Olmsted County Public Health.
Contributed/Olmsted County Public Health

“We are at an all-time high in the pandemic right now,” she added, citing concern about staff shortages, as well as severe outcomes that continue to happen.

“The lagging indicator is always deaths, and we do continue to see some deaths here in the community from COVID,” she said as she presented a chart showing more than 10 COVID-related deaths were reported in each of the last two months of 2021 and two or three have been recorded in the first weeks of 2022.

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COVID-related deaths in Olmsted County throughout the pandemic are record by whether they occurred in people living in a long-term care facility or other group residence or in a private home. The majority of deaths in recent months have involved people who live in a private residence.
Contributed/Olmsted County Public Health

The chart showed another change related to the deaths since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

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Daniels said deaths were largely occurring among people who lived in long-term care facilities and other group residences during 2020 and the first months of 2021, but increased vaccinations at those sites has led to a shift.

“Most of our deaths are now individuals who are in private residences and not in long-term care facilities,” she said.

Olmsted County continues to have the state’s second-highest vaccination rate, only following the less-populated Cook County.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports 81.2% of Olmsted County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with nearly 77% completing their series.

Daniels said slightly less than 70% of the vaccinated residents have received a booster dose.

“With waning immunity of those vaccines, this has been critically important to our cases,” she said.

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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