COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase in Carver County.
Carver County deaths from COVID rose from nine to 15 in two weeks, as of Tuesday. Over 1,500 more people caught the virus from Nov. 17 to Dec. 1, bringing the county’s total case count to 4,929 as of Tuesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
That’s almost equal to the city of Carver’s population of 5,000 people.
Carver County Public Health Director Richard Scott said the county is following a similar pattern to Minnesota as a whole, which reached 322,000 cases early this week according to the MDH.
Seven people died of COVID in November, which accounts for nearly half of all COVID fatalities in the county. Around 160 people had been hospitalized in total as of Tuesday, and all deaths involved people 50 years old or older.
Scott said that fatality number is distressing.
“That is a concern and is reflective, of course, of the number of cases that we’ve had,” Scott said at the virtual Nov. 30 Chaska City Council meeting.
Public health staff predicted the county would hit 1,400 cases by mid-November.
“Well, we doubled that,” Scott said. “We’re talking about significant cases.”
He said the “single most important thing” people can do to reduce spread is wearing a face mask. In communities that mandated mask-wearing, Scott said the move cut case rates in half.
Continually encouraged by the county, COVID testing has risen in recent weeks.
“What’s good is the amount of testing we’re doing,” Scott said, noting more testing does not contribute to higher case counts. “It gives us a better more accurate picture of what’s happening.”
He said in just one week last month, 5.5% of all Carver County residents (or around 5,700 people) got tested for COVID. Scott called it “phenomenal” but noted people are still having a hard time getting tested.
Saliva testing has proven to be “very highly accurate,” he said, along with nasal swabs and at-home testing.
Because at-home testing kits are now available statewide and demand has risen, Scott said there’s a shortage in supplies. Kits can take five days to arrive to people’s homes, but he expects that time to shorten soon.
People can also check in with their local clinics to see if they offer COVID testing, though an exam cost may be billed.
“There’s hope around the corner,” Scott said.
Thirteen immunizations are in the third and final phase of tests, he said, and anticipates vaccines with high effectiveness (over 95%) to be publicly available in March or April. The hope is to vaccinate high-priority groups first like healthcare workers and those in congregate care.
He said the public health community generally agrees when people have COVID with symptoms, they may be immune for at least three months, but the consensus is still unknown.
Scott said he isn’t sure if those who contracted COVID would still need a vaccine, or if there would be enough doses for them. Some vaccines might need repeated or annual doses.
Scott said the average caseload for a daytime nurse is typically four patients, but COVID has increased that to five or six. He said his wife works in the healthcare industry, so he sees the effect at home.
“My wife comes home crying because her staff are crying because of the stories that they’ve heard,” Scott said. “Many of us are removed from it, but it’s very real for those healthcare providers that are struggling with this day in and day out.”
He said local emergency rooms across the metro are “overrun” with COVID patients. Addressing a council member’s question, he said hospitals are likely losing money because of COVID and that there’s no incentive for the healthcare industry to exaggerate the number of cases.
This fall, more people have reported higher depression and anxiety symptoms, especially for young adults under 30 and Hispanic people, Scott said.
Others are reporting an increased use in illicit drug use and alcohol consumption, which Scott encouraged people to limit.
He suggested people continue taking care of themselves physically and mentally and connecting with loved ones virtually. Self-care can include things like going for a walk, investing time in a hobby, avoiding stressors like social media, and asking for help.
Scott said that’s part of the equation in keeping everyone safe.
“We want to take those steps now to protect ourselves now so that we can have many more years to come in the future,” he said.