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‘WORST IN THE STATE’: Waseca County leaders work to slow virus spread

WASECA, Minn. (FOX 47) -- The past three weeks has seen an alarming spike in COVID cases in Waseca County.

The county had the state's highest COVID testing positivity rate during a two-week period in August. In that time, more than 50 people per 10,000 tested positive for COVID 19.

There are a few contributing factors but community leaders in Waseca say individual decision making has a big part to play.

"We know that this disease is hard to spot. We know that people are spreading the virus when they feel well and look well," said Sarah Berry, Waseca County public health director.

The spreading of the coronavirus by asymptomatic carriers has even affected the school district.

"We have had quite a few cases in Waseca County in the past few weeks," said Superintendent Eric Hudspith. "We only had four cases at our high school."

However, dozens of students were exposed and have to quarantine which forced the school to change its learning models from hybrid to completely distanced for 7th through 12th grades.

"We were hopeful we wouldn't have to do it quite so soon," the Waseca Public Schools superintendent said. "Based on what is happening in our school, we felt it was the best option at this time."

One outbreak in particular has impacted the school's decision: the Federal Correctional Institution.

"We know that the people that work in those facilities live in our community," Hudspith said. "There's the opportunity to spread COVID around our community based on those folks' working environment."

While some of the cases can be attributed to the correctional facility and the assisted living communities, that is not the only concern in Waseca County.

"Of the last almost 100 cases, at least half were community spread," the public health director said. "Fifty percent of what we're seeing is community spread and not associated with one of those settings."

Berry says unsafe social gatherings are most likely behind the recent spike in Waseca County, but it does not mean people should stop supporting local businesses.

"Our business partners have done a tremendous job of following guidance and working with the public so they can socialize in a safe way," Berry said.

Instead, both the superintendent and public health director encourage more compliance with the mask mandate and avoiding crowds to help things get back to normal.

"We would really encourage our community to support us so kids can stay in school more," Hudspith said.

The Waseca school district is working alongside the county public health department to decide when COVID cases have trended downward enough for those older students to return to hybrid learning.

The health department says gatherings before Labor Day are behind the spike but the holiday parties from last week might still have an impact going forward.

Alex Tejada

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