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State expresses worry over high COVID positivity rate in county

Minnesota Department of  Health officials are showing concern about Freeborn County’s high COVID-19 positivity rates from tests conducted at the National Guard-operated testing site at the Albert Lea Armory in recent weeks and are encouraging people to practice safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to data provided by the Department of Health, 13% of tests conducted at the Albert Lea site tested positive the week of Jan. 10, which is down from the 19.53% positivity rate the week prior.

“We continue to be concerned,” said Dan Huff, assistant commissioner for the Health Protection Bureau.

He said as businesses are opening back up, students are going back to school, people are beginning to resume their normal activities and vaccines are beginning to be distributed, health officials are worried that people are letting their guard down.

“Really we have to keep our guard up — continuing to mask, continuing to social distance, continuing to limit our interaction outside of our household pod,” Huff said.

He encouraged people to utilize the no-barrier testing site at the Armory to find out whether they have COVID-19. He noted 50% of the spread of the virus is from people who don’t have symptoms and are unknowingly passing it to  others.

Results from the saliva tests are returned to people within 34 to 48 hours.

He said when people go into the testing site, they simply ask for an email or a phone number where the results can be received and for an insurance card to help offset the cost.

There is no cost to the patient and no one checks IDS.

He said while people aren’t encouraged to overuse public funds that are being used to operate the site, if they are considered to be in a high-risk setting or frequently interact with large numbers of people, they should consider getting tested more frequently.

He noted the fact that because there is a higher positivity rate in Albert Lea, it leads them to think that there are a lot of people who probably have the disease and don’t know it.

Huff said Minnesota’s numbers as a whole have improved from their high in November because of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s dial back. The state has seen significantly lower case numbers and hospitalizations statewide, and they expect the death rate to decline soon as well because there are fewer people in the hospital.

He said officials are starting to be slightly concerned because case numbers are starting to creep up slightly, and in turn that will mean increased hospitalizations.

“We’re very pleased at how we dropped after the dial back, but we’re getting more concerned that the drop stopped and that we’re starting to go back up again,” he said.

Add on top of that the new variant of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom that has surfaced in the United States, including Minnesota.

Though there have not been any positive tests for the variant outside of the metro area in Minnesota, he said he would not be surprised if it was already all over the state.

“If it’s not throughout the state, I’m sure it will be soon,” Huff said.

While the variant does not cause more severe disease, it is known to be more easily spread and has become the dominant strain in the UK.

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