By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health reported new COVID-19 infections in all 87 Minnesota counties Monday.

Officials are particularly worried about growing case numbers in the west-central part of the state.

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Kandiyohi County added more than 200 new cases this weekend, when the positivity rate climbed to 30%. Now, more than 2,700 people are currently infected.

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As Co-CEO of Carris Health, Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith is worried about the days ahead.

“What’s scary for us is that our hospitals are already at capacity,” Dr. Firkins Smith said.

Willmar’s Rice Memorial Hospital couldn’t accept any new patients this weekend as COVID-19 cases soar. The area’s positivity rate is running 10% to 30% day-to-day, and 10% of the hospital system’s staff are out of work due to infections or exposures at home.

“The more people in the community that have COVID, the more likely you are to come in contact with someone who has COVID,” Dr. Firkins Smith said. “So the more likely you are to contract COVID.”

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The numbers prompted the area’s public health director to encourage businesses and community groups to decrease the spread by limiting unnecessary activities. She wrote, “If you don’t need to go out, please stay home.”

As a small business owner himself, Republican Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar is desperately trying to keep doors open. He is teaming up with fellow Republican Sen. Andrew Lang to urge more masking in a letter to the editor this weekend in the West Central Tribune.

“It’s encouraging people not to sort of bark at the employees that feel uncomfortable saying, ‘Would you mind putting on a mask?’” Rep. Baker said.

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MDH officials believe there has been more resistance to public health guidelines in this part of the state. But Rep. Baker says with elections over, politics must be put aside, as the pandemic enters a ninth and more dangerous month.

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“What I do trust right now is the numbers in front of us. Every day that we see today that we didn’t see a few months ago is changing quickly,” Rep. Baker said.

Liz Collin