St. Cloud's becoming a coronavirus hot spot

Testing has ramped up in St. Cloud as the city—and Stearns County overall—reports an uptick in coronavirus cases.

Testing has ramped up in St. Cloud as the city—and Stearns County overall—reports an uptick in coronavirus cases. Minnesota Department of Transportation

One of the U.S. metros getting hit hardest by coronavirus right now is here in Minnesota.

St. Cloud, according to data compiled for the past two weeks, has some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases relative to its population, according to the New York Times’ massive trove of data. On Wednesday, it landed at No. 11 on the list with 841 new cases, or 4.21 cases per every 1,000 people, and the numbers still appear to be rising.

At the top of the list were Sioux City, Iowa, with 2,232 new cases (13.2 per every 1,000); Gallup, New Mexico, with 814 new cases (11.26 per every 1,000); and Grand Island, Nebraska, with 776 new cases (9.12 per every 1,000). But in those three places, the curve appeared to be either relatively flat, or flattening—nearing the end of a wave.

St. Cloud, meanwhile, was No. 2 on the Times’ list of places where we might see outbreaks in the near future. Over the past two weeks, it’s seen an average 29 percent growth in cases every day. The only place with a higher rate was St. Joseph, Missouri, with a 31 percent growth rate. St. Cloud was followed by Lafayette, Indiana (14 percent); Des Moines, Iowa (13 percent); and Lincoln, Nebraska (also 13 percent).

According to cases confirmed by the Minnesota Department of Health, Stearns County overall went from 86 cases on April 28 to 975 on Wednesday. Only Hennepin and Nobles County have reported more infections. Having CentraCare, one of the state’s largest hospitals, located in St. Cloud certainly helps bolster those numbers, but it doesn’t totally account for the exponential rise.

This week, Stearns County also saw its first two coronavirus deaths. Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during Monday’s statewide briefing that the likely cause was “widespread community transmission.” The presence of two nearby meat processing plants—Jennie-O in Melrose and Pilgrim’s Pride in Cold Spring—has also been identified as a possible contributor.

Both the state and local governments have been keeping their eyes on the situation. On Tuesday, CentraCare Physician Incident Manager George Morris appeared on the city’s regular coronavirus briefing to talk about it.

“We are seeing increased numbers, and I understand what this means, and we understand what this means to our community,” he said. The spike in positive tests in the St. Cloud area began with a small uptick “a couple weeks ago,” Morris said, and the city ramped up its testing efforts in an attempt to head off the problem.

“We had to work with the state to get that testing available, but we greatly expanded our capacity to where I believe we’re doing at least four to five times as many tests as we were doing before,” he said. The city is still primarily focusing on people showing symptoms.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota had lost 485 people to coronavirus as of Wednesday afternoon. The vast majority of them—391—resided in long-term care or assisted living facilities.