Jan. 21—MANKATO — Area counties combined for 2,394 confirmed COVID-19 cases this week, a 39% increase from last week's total.
The uptick indicates the south-central Minnesota region remains on the upswing of a case wave brought on by the contagious omicron variant.
This week's 39% uptick was a smaller rise than last week's 72% increase, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Having a smaller percentage increase for the week could indicate the current rise is slowing down, said Derek J. Wingert, a local data analyst with the COVID Tracking Project. The region's positivity rate did rise from 12.9% to 14.2% this week, but the smaller uptick in cases compared to the prior week is a more encouraging sign when it comes to anticipating omicron's trajectory.
"As bad as (the positivity rate) is, there's a lot to be hopeful for in the coming week," Wingert said.
Case levels are expected to drop fairly fast once the omicron wave peaks, which Wingert suspects will happen within the next two weeks.
While case totals continued to increase this week, death counts are showing signs of slowing down. The nine-county region had no newly confirmed deaths Friday, keeping its January toll at 22 through 21 days.
December, in contrast, had 57 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. It was the second highest monthly toll since the pandemic began.
Statewide, there were 36 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths. Minnesota's pandemic toll rose to 11,151, while south-central Minnesota's toll is at 441.
All nine area counties had at least 16% increases in cases this week. Watonwan County had the biggest jump at 88%, going from 72 to 135 weekly cases.
Blue Earth County's rise from 615 to 836 resulted in a 36% increase. Nicollet County's 44% uptick came off of an increase from 257 to 370.
The full list of confirmed cases by county this week, along with the percentage increase compared to the previous week, includes:
* Blue Earth County — 836, 36%
* Nicollet County — 370, 44%
* Brown County — 253, 55%
* Le Sueur County — 228, 40%
* Martin County — 179, 34%
* Waseca County — 165, 16%
* Watonwan County — 135, 88%
* Faribault County — 134, 34%
* Sibley County — 94, 31%
The rise was also evident in area schools, which broke case records this week.
Mankato Area Public Schools reported 400 new cases among its students and staff from Jan. 14-20. That tops last week's prior record of 379.
There were 186 cases within early childhood programs and elementary schools, 71 at the middle schools, 135 at the high schools, and eight in other district buildings and programs.
The number of known cases since the start of the school year now tops 1,800.
Some classes have had to move to distance learning after three or more students came down with the virus, Director of Safety and Facilities Scott Hogen told the School Board on Tuesday.
The district is hosting vaccination clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds at Eagle Lake Elementary on Monday and Washington Elementary School on Tuesday.
St. Peter Public Schools had 46 known cases among students and nine among staff as of Thursday. That's down from 65 cases reported last week before the district held a day of distance learning to expand an already break to five days.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola