Wadena County sees 'huge jump' in positive COVID-19 cases

Health professionals urge the community to take precautions seriously.

As a part of the surge of positive COVID-19 cases in rural areas, Minnesota and surrounding states, Wadena County Public Health Director Cindy Pederson shared about Wadena County’s “huge jump” in cases at the board of commissioners meeting on Nov. 3.

In September, Wadena County had 41 cases and in October, 224 cases. From Oct. 18-31, there were 111 cases with a 14-day case rate of 81.34, according to Pederson. The case rates are the number of COVID-19 positive tests per 10,000.

Pederson said these numbers impact school districts’ learning models and long-term care facilities testing requirements.

“Our community numbers do affect a lot of our different partners,” Pederson said.

As of Nov. 3, Wadena County has 318 cumulative positive COVID-19 cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The county also saw a fourth COVID-19 death on Nov. 3 with the person in the 95-99 years old range, according to MDH.


Pederson also noted the percentage of people over 65 years old in Wadena County is 21% in comparison to 15.8% in Minnesota. There are 2,897 residents over 65 years old and 895 residents at least 80 years old, which shows a higher percentage of people at high-risk for severe illness related to COVID-19.

People in the 50-59 years old age range have the highest number of positive cases in Wadena County in October as well as from May to October. In Minnesota, the 20-29 years old age range has the highest number, according to Pederson.

Of the positive cases reported in October in Wadena County, 79 cases have missing information on the person’s exposure to the coronavirus, 52 cases are congregate living exposure and 46 cases are community unknown, as Pederson said. The large number of cases listed as missing is partially due to state contact tracers busyness with the increase in cases. From May to October, 76 cases have been community unknown.

“(Community unknown) that’s concerning because people are saying, ‘I don’t really know where I got it’ and that kind of leads to the idea of widespread community spread,” Pederson said.

Public Health has also received increased phone calls from local businesses with questions about staff needing to quarantine.

Both Pederson and Tri-County Health Care president and CEO Joel Beiswenger said the hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients are nearing high hospitalization levels as seen in May and one of the current issues is being able to transfer patients to regional hospitals. Tri-County usually transfers patients who need higher level care, like cardiologists for those after a heart attack and patients such as stroke and COVID-19 patients.

The regional hospitals in St. Cloud, Fargo and the Twin Cities are at or near capacity, causing “severe pushback” when transferring a patient is needed, according to Beiswenger. For example, Sanford Health has 550 beds full of their 560 beds and 86 of their 93 COVID unit beds full as of Nov. 2. Hospitals are hoping to increase more beds over the next few weeks, which will also be impacted by staff availability. Tri-County has had one to two COVID-19 related patients regularly in the hospital over the past two weeks, as Beiswenger said.

After a 1.5-2.5% test positivity rate until Oct. 14, the local test positivity rate is 5.5%, according to Beiswenger. Over the last 14 days, the test positivity rate is 16%. The positivity test rate is the number of positive tests per tests taken, according to Pederson. The rate shows how widespread infection levels are and is best to have below 5%. Through mid-October, Tri-County tested about 15-18 people a day and since mid-October about 40-60 people are tested daily.


“It is not more cases because there’s more testing, there are more cases because we are testing and getting a high level of positivity,” Beiswenger said.

Commissioners Sheldon Monson, Chuck Horsager and Jim Hofer also noted how people’s bodies react to COVID-19 differently, including friends in a range of ages who have passed away from the illness as well as those who have mild cases. Some may experience symptoms similar to the flu and others may experience a range of severe symptoms including and beyond respiratory issues that can last for months, as long-haulers experience.

“Six weeks ago probably none of us really knew somebody who had COVID. Now it’s pretty common. We’ve got neighbors, we’ve got people in the workforce, we know business owners that have had to now close because of employees having it, so it’s taking a hold,” Hofer said.

With the increase in COVID-19 positive cases, the county and hospital are hoping to offer more education on the health and safety measures including to local businesses, as Pederson and Beiswenger said.

“We can only hope it’ll be a peak with a dramatic drop-off, that would probably be our best case scenario right now. I am not confident however that we’ll see that unless we have relatively dramatic turn around in terms of our compliance around the communities to the good social mitigation,” Beiswenger said. “Which could make the next two or three or four months actually very difficult for us if we see a spike that doesn’t tail off real fast.”

Pederson reminded people of the health and safety precautions, including:

  • Stay home as much as you can;

  • Stay home if sick;

  • Wash hands often and well;

  • Get tested if sick;

  • Avoid gatherings, make sure to social distance and wear a mask in small gatherings and work places;

  • Wear a mask;

  • Social distance.


Wadena County Cases by Month.JPG
The number of positive COVID-19 cases from April to October in Wadena County show 224 cases as of Oct. 20. Wadena County Public Health

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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