WILLMAR — West central Minnesota has had few new COVID-19 cases reported in recent weeks.

However, area health officials are keeping an eye on the delta variant which is spreading quickly in other parts of the country.

The Minnesota Department of Health has reported that more than 75% of specimens examined since July 1 have identified the delta variant.

Not all cases are available for genomic sequencing, which can identify the specific strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The Department of Health makes estimates based on the specimens it examines.

Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services director Jennie Lippert.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services director Jennie Lippert. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

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“We have been very fortunate to have little spread of COVID-19 just in general but also with the new delta variant,” said Jennie Lippert, director of the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Department.

“We’re monitoring it,” and the delta variant is likely to end up in this area eventually, she said.

“It’s clear that the delta variant is more transmissible,” Scott Smith, public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Health, said in an email. “We continue to urge all eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated now so they are ready for the school year, and we can help limit spread of COVID-19 in schools and our communities.”

Areas with low vaccination rates are more susceptible to the delta variant and other strains, he said.

Lippert said the variant could be a concern in the area. Several area counties, including Kandiyohi, have about half their eligible populations vaccinated.

“We continue to educate the community that we need those folks who haven’t gotten vaccinated to get vaccinated,” she said. “There are plenty of vaccines available.”

The shots are available at public health agencies, medical clinics and pharmacies throughout the state. The shots are free to everyone.

The number of daily new cases in the state dropped in June but has risen in July. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 375 new cases in the July 23 situation update.

Eleven counties in west central Minnesota tracked by the West Central Tribune reported a total of 20 new cases July 23, and four of those counties reported no new cases.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized has risen slightly in the past three weeks., according to the Minnesota Department of Health Weekly COVID-19 Report. Patients in the ICU rose from 22 on July 1 to 34 on July 22. The number of patients hospitalized but not in an ICU has risen from 84 to 89 in the same time period.

The Health Department reports that 12% of delta variant cases have led to hospitalization and 2% to death.

Deaths reported in the state remain relatively low. Two deaths were reported July 23 and have remained low with a daily rate that’s usually in single digits.

Area vaccine rates

These are the latest vaccination rates among those 12 and older in area counties. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.

Big Stone County: 63%

Chippewa County: 57%

Kandiyohi County: 53%

Lac qui Parle County: 60%

Meeker County: 48%

Pope County: 55%

Redwood County: 52%

Renville County: 54%

Stearns County: 51%

Swift County: 55%

Yellow Medicine County: 53%