— When it came to vaccination and positivity rates for COVID-19, the five counties served by Countryside Public Health mirrored the average in Minnesota through the course of the pandemic.
But when it came to the death rate attributed to COVID, those same five counties experienced a death rate above the state average, even when compared to other areas of the state with lower vaccination rates.
Why the higher death rate?
It’s very likely due to the region having a larger portion of elderly persons with age-related health conditions as compared to other areas of the state, according to Liz Auch, director of Countryside Public Health.
Auch recently presented data on the experience with COVID-19 from the state — and specifically the five counties served by Countryside — to the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners. Countryside serves Yellow Medicine, Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties.
Auch presented graphs showing that six months into the pandemic, southwestern Minnesota began recording COVID-19 death rates per 100,0000 population that were above the state average.
Vaccination rates were average in the region. The lowest vaccination rates were found in central Minnesota counties, while the higher rates were found in the metropolitan areas and northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.
The data presented to the commissioners showed the five counties experienced 147 deaths attributed to COVID-19 during the pandemic. Nearly 83% of those deaths — or 122 total — were recorded for individuals ages 70 and over. There were 17 COVID-19-attributed deaths for those ages 60-69, and eight deaths attributed to COVID-19 for those under age 60 in the counties.
Auch cautioned that no epidemiologist has analyzed the data to determine why the southwestern death rate was higher than the state average.
Of the 147 deaths in the five counties, 64 occurred in private residences, 82 in long-term care facilities, and one in a group home. Auch said she was told that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death last year in the Countryside Public Health service area.
The data collected over the two years of the pandemic show rapid peaks in the spread of the virus after its initial arrival and the subsequent development of Delta and Omicron variants.
While the region lost lives to the disease, Auch pointed out that the toll might have been much greater were it not for all the work to control it.
“I think we really worked with our health care system, and all partners. Everyone did a really good job of really trying to keep this under control,” she told the commissioners.
She is hoping the world can put the pandemic behind us, but noted that COVID-19 continues to take the lives of, on average, 500 Americans each day.
Auch told the commissioners that she and her colleagues discussed the hardships and challenges that the pandemic brought on their way to the meeting and concluded: “We don’t know if we can do another pandemic, so it needs to stop.”