REGIONAL — As of Tuesday’s daily report from the Minnesota Department of Health, Rock and Nobles counties in the far southwest corner of the state have yet to report their first positive cases of the novel coronavirus.

However, public health officials believe the contagious virus is circulating in their communities.

Statewide, 1,069 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported as of Tuesday — an increase of 83 since Monday. More than half of those individuals (549) no longer need to be isolated, while 120 are currently hospitalized,and 64 are hospitalized in intensive care units. Four more deaths since Monday brought the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the state to 34. Those individuals range in age from 58 to 100.

Southwest Health and Human Services was notified Monday of the first positive case in Murray County, a day after Pipestone County received news of its initial positive case. The agency now has at least one positive COVID-19 case in five of the six counties it serves — Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone and Redwood..

Meanwhile, Des Moines Valley Health and Human Services, which serves both Jackson and Cottonwood counties, has remained steady for several days at six cases — five in Cottonwood County and one in Jackson County.

The Jackson County case involved a male in his 60s who reported frequent travel. After testing positive, he went into self-isolation on March 17 and came out of quarantine on March 25.

Kelsey Andrews, director of public health for Des Moines Valley HHS, said patients must be fever-free without the use of medication for three consecutive days before they can be removed from isolation.

“That case was pretty mild,” Andrews said, noting she was thankful for that, considering it was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 for their agency. A family member living in the same home as the adult male had to be quarantined for 14 days, never showed symptoms of the virus and came off of isolation Friday.

In Cottonwood County, two of the five individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 no longer need to be isolated, Andrews said. The five cases there involve individuals ranging in age from 16 to 60, and all of the cases were either linked to domestic travel or via direct link to another positive case. None of the individuals have been hospitalized, she reported.

MDH reporting of positive cases has evolved since diagnosing began in the state. Initially, the public was told the age and gender for each positive case. Now, that data isn’t being released, according to Lauren Mellenthin, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Southwest Health and Human Services. She said her office wasn’t given any specific details about the cases in Pipestone and Murray counties, and isn’t even told if the individuals are hospitalized or are in quarantine.

“MDH does the contact information,” Mellenthin said. “They are in control, and they provide information to us.”

What to look for

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that most individuals who get COVID-19 experience a mild form of the virus. Those with chronic health conditions, however, are much more susceptible to becoming critically ill.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and cough. If someone experiences difficulty breathing, that's more serious, and people should seek medical attention by calling their physician or the emergency room.

Emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips or face, according to the CDC. If other symptoms severe in nature occur, people are advised to consult their medical provider.

Taking action

The best way for people to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home if you are sick; wash your hands often and thoroughly; cover your cough; avoid touching your face; and follow the Governor’s Stay At Home executive order.

Mellenthin said since Gov. Tim Walz initiated the Stay At Home order, she has noticed residents in the counties served by Southwest Health and Human Services seem to be adhering fairly well to the request.

“We recommend that if there isn’t a confirmed case in your county, to act as though there are,” she said. “It’s not only for protection of yourself, but for your family members also.

“We want people to pretend their neighbor has it or their friend has it — that’s why it’s only for essential needs that you should be going out of your home,” she added.

Mellenthin also encourages people to wear masks if they go out in public, particularly for trips to the grocery store, pharmacy and gas station or convenience store. Most likely, people don’t have access to buy a mask or make their own, but there are ways to do so with household materials. There are directions online for making a mask with a bandana and a pair of ponytail holders, or more elaborate masks that require sewing. Even covering your mouth and nose with a scarf can help.

“It’s not going to be a surgical mask — it is not an N95 respirator mask — but it offers protection,” Mellenthin shared. “It’s not 100%, and the CDC says to still maintain that six feet of social distance.”

Get outside, but stay close to home

Area public health agencies want people to stay healthy, and realize staying cooped up at home is not the answer.

“You have to take care of yourself physically and mentally,” Mellenthin said. “This doesn’t mean going up to the Cities just for a drive. You have to do things in the area where you live.”

Go for a walk, take a bike ride, work on the lawn or in the garden — all of those can be done while social distancing — and while staying close to home.

Andrews, of Lakefield, said she was in Worthington on Saturday and was amazed by how many people were out and about despite the governor’s Stay At Home order.

“In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve seen that big of a decrease in either Jackson or Windom,” she added.

Still, with Easter approaching on Sunday, Andrews won’t be gathering with family, and she hopes others stay home as well.

“I want to protect my family. I have older parents and older in-laws,” she said. “I don’t want to be bringing whatever I’m running into at work (as an essential employee still in close proximity to coworkers). It’s a tough time — it’s Easter and we want to celebrate, we want to be together with our family.

“Push it to a time where we don’t have to worry about getting someone sick or possibly being a carrier,” she added.