OTTER TAIL COUNTY, Minn. — Data compiled by The New York Times says Fergus Falls, Minn., has one of the fastest rates of coronavirus spread in the United States.
The Otter Tail County seat placed second highest in the nation on Monday, Nov. 16. The ranking has lowered since then, but the area is still in the top 20 as of Wednesday, Nov. 18.
When comparing the Times report to their data, public health director Jody Lien said it appears to represent Otter Tail County as a whole. Fergus Falls by itself does not meet the 50,000 population threshold.
However, the spread has indeed gotten worse. Lien said small gatherings are mainly to blame, including in more rural areas.
CEO of Lake Region Healthcare Kent Mattson said their numbers do stick out when compared to the rest of Minnesota. He told Forum News Service that 30% of the area's overall positive tests occurred in just the last two weeks.
Mattson says 37% of their ICU patients are COVID-19 positive. It is a higher percentage than what they were expecting for this time of year.
"We can only control so much in the hospital, but the community really controls the breadth of the spread, the rate of the spread," Mattson said. "To help us take care of them, we're just asking them to just do their part and slow it down. Let it come at us more evenly."
As of Thursday, Nov. 19, 65 of Mattson's hospital staff members were unable to work. He said if that gets between 75 and 100, they could be in trouble. He is urging the community to continue masking up and avoiding small gatherings.
"Now is really the time to change that behavior," Mattson said.
The Henning Public School District will be shut down all of next week, citing an escalation of COVID-19 in their school community.
Fergus Falls Public Schools, on the other hand, is seeing no major outbreak. Superintendent Jeff Drake said they only experienced 36 cases among the roughly 3,000 students and staff so far.
"We would like to think it's because of the safety measures that we're taking and the protocols that we use," Drake said.
Health care leaders are now turning their attention to Thanksgiving, worried those gatherings could make this situation worse.