Rice County Public Health Department Director Deb Purfeerst gave a slide presentation to the Board of Commissioners today detailing COVID-19 case numbers.  For example approximately 44% of the cases in the county have been among the black population.  U.S. Census estimates from July of 2019 placed the county's black population at 5.8%.

Faribault has experienced about 93 percent of the positive cases in the county. The Census estimated the city's black population at 12.4 percent.  Purfeerst reported the percentage could even be higher because in 28% of the cases the race field was left blank so it's unknown.

The Rice County Public Health Department Director said people can still assist by donating masks because they are in high demand.  There are drop boxes at the County Government Services Building in Faribault, Lonsdale Police Station, Morristown Public Works/Fire Hall, Dundas HIghway Shop.  The Faribault Fire Department also has a plastic tub just outside the front door to the station.

A Rice County COVID Helpline has been set up.  507-384-6549 open 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.  It does take recordings after hours and on the weekends.  Purfeerst said the line hasn't been swamped with calls but there have been many from people throughout the county.

Testing is available in Northfield, Faribault and Owatonna in the region.  Purfeerst indicated Northfield Hospital is more stringent than Owatonna in who they test.

She says, "At Northfield Hospital they are prioritizing a little bit differently then maybe Mayo Owatonna, where pretty much they aren't going to turn anybody away. So if somebody shows up with no symptoms they will test."

In Northfield and Faribault symptoms are required at the hospitals.  Last week Healthfinders in Faribault began testing.  They are targeting the uninsured.

About 93 percent of the COVID-19 positives in Rice County have been people with Faribault addresses.  Many have asked why such a disparity between the two largest cities in the county exists.

Purfeerst believes there are multiple factors.  One is more people have been tested in Faribault with two test sites.  Northfield has one with primarily afternoon hours.  The two sites in Faribault do testing all day throughout the week.  Owatonna has weekend hours in addition to all day testing during the week.

Another reason is Faribault has more apartment complexes, "Large numbers of people living together in more crowded areas. You do see more transmission occurring there.  So if you are a household with maybe 6 or 8 people in your family by the time the first person figures out that they are ill, get in for testing and get the test results, many times we will see nearly the whole household is already ill."

"It's hard to stop that in a home setting.  Especially if you only have a couple bedrooms.  Again it might take up to 72 hours to get your test results back.  It is hard to slow that spread down."

One of the commissioners asked Purfeerst if they have seen clusters of cases in specific areas of the county.  Her reply was. "I would say we have not had any significant business clusters.  In Steele County they have definitely had a business with a number, you know once you creep into 85 to 100 cases within a business setting with 400 employees or something.  You know that is considered a cluster where you might need to make different decisions about closing down lines for a period of time, etc. We have not seen that in Rice County."

Purfeerst says every business will experience COVID cases, "We have community transmission going on throughout the state of Minnesota.  It's out there and I think it's pretty impossible to stop it from coming into your site.  What you don't want to see happen is it spread wildly through your business.  So you want those measures in place so you can slow that spread."

"The same recommendations will continue for people to maintain social distancing of six feet or more whenever possible.  Wearing the cloth face masks if you are not able to maintain the six foot distancing.  Washing your hands frequently.  Covering your cough.  Not touching your face.  Staying home if you are sick. For people placed in isolation and quarantine they need to stay in isolation and quarantine for the amount of time they are instructed to do so.  Businesses need to have a strategy to do what they can to help prevent the spread."

The majority of the deaths in Minnesota have been people residing in long term care facilities in the largest counties of Hennepin and Ramsey.  Just two of the positives in Rice County were people living in those type facilities.

Purfeerst says, "Knock on wood.  We've been very fortunate so far in Rice County.  We haven't had a lot of congregate settings that have had cases.  But, of course that could change at any moment.  Our long term facilities have been invited to participate in our weekly calls.  They also have weekly calls with MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) staff to receive guidance on best practices and infection control."

Faribault Fire Station Mask Donation Tub. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld