More than 3 percent of one county has tested positive for coronavirus

Officials say numbers in Nobles County were driven by the workers and families of JBS USA processing plant in Worthington.

Officials say numbers in Nobles County were driven by the workers and families of JBS USA processing plant in Worthington. Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

As of Thursday, Minnesota had over 5,100 cases and just over 340 deaths from COVID-19. That’s about six deaths per every 100,000 people.

As seen in tracking data from the New York Times, the virus isn’t evenly distributed across the state. The most cases, by county, are in Hennepin, at just over 1,700. As are the most deaths: 225.

But Hennepin also has by far the most people, and is pretty far down the list for cases of coronavirus cases per capita. And its death rate is easily surpassed by counties like Wilkin, located in the middle of the state’s western edge, which with only three deaths (out of some 6,500 residents) claims the highest rate in Minnesota. That’s followed by Winona County (15 deaths, or 30 per 100,000 residents) Martin County (four deaths, or 20 per 100,000 residents) and then Hennepin.

The place with the absolute worst COVID-19 rate isn’t anywhere near the urban core. It’s down in Nobles County, in the southwest corner of the state.

Nobles, as of Thursday afternoon, had 742 people test positive for coronavirus—14 percent of the state’s total cases. Its population is not quite 22,000 people, which balloons that figure to a rate of 3,400 or so people per every 100,000, or 3.37 percent of the population. Most of those cases were picked up over the course of April—an alarmingly quick pace compared to the state’s overall trajectory.

Only one death in Nobles County has so far been blamed on COVID-19.

The Minnesota Department of Health says the spread was driven by the workers and families of the JBS USA processing plant in Worthington, which was forced to close after 100 of its employees tested positive.

“We basically went from zero tests to 700 positives in 10 days,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said during his regular COVID-19 update on Thursday. “The per capita infection rate in Nobles County approaches New York City, and that happened a week ago Sunday to today.”

This is on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday executive order calling for the reopening of all closed meat processing plants.

County Administrator Tom Johnson says there are no clear-cut answers. They take their orders from the Minnesota Department of Health. In the meantime, the county’s doing its best to provide food and lodging for people who can’t self-isolate at home, with the help of volunteers and staff. But despite the numbers, he doesn’t think they’re coping any differently than any other community.

“I think the stay-at-home order is appropriate,” he says. “We’re only going to beat this by staying together.”

On Thursday, as he extended the stay-at-home order through May 18, Walz estimated the peak of the outbreak in our state is now most likely to happen in late May or early June.