The number of people with COVID-19 in Becker County is “increasing dramatically,” Public Health Supervisor Kristin Bausman told commissioners at the County Board meeting Tuesday.

“It took us six and half months to reach 683 positive cases, and only two weeks to double that,” she said.

Becker County reported a cumulative total number of COVID-19 cases of 1,412 as of Tuesday, with 322 active cases.

“We’re just not able to keep up with contact tracers,” who notify people they may have been exposed to a positive case, she added. “The state is hiring more tracers, but they can’t keep up,” she said.

Just in November, 30 Becker County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19, she said. Becker County’s positive test rate is now at 8.7%, well over the 5% threshold set by the state, she said.

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The rising numbers of patients also means more people that have been in contact with them, which all adds up to more people needing to isolate or quarantine, Bausman said.

That in turn is leading to staffing shortages at hospitals and long-term care units, she added.

The staffing shortage has also affected schools and other critical workers, she said.

Sunnyside Care Center near Lake Park is no exception.

As COVID surges in the region and throughout the state, Sunnyside has also felt the impact, Administrator Ashley McNally said in a statement to the Tribune. Sunnyside is owned by Becker County, but operated by Ecumen.

Like many other care centers and health care organizations, McNally said, “the virus has affected our staffing.” Sunnyside now has two team members out due to a potential exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, following all recommended protocols,” McNally said. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our residents and team members. We’re committed to maintaining high quality care for our residents. We're always looking for talented, caring new team members.”

In Becker County, Sunnyside is one of three congregate care facilities currently on the state list for a COVID-19 exposure: The other two are the nursing home at Ecumen Detroit Lakes, and Essentia Health Oak Crossing in Detroit Lakes.

On the plus side, saliva tests and nasal swab tests for COVID-19 are accurate and available, Bausman said, although some COVID antibody tests are less accurate, she said.

Also, as part of a statewide push, all people ages 18 to 35 should get tested for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, she said. People that age are believed to be more likely to carry the virus without symptoms, causing it to spread to more vulnerable populations. Saliva tests are available in Moorhead and Wadena, and also from some local clinic providers, she said.

Becker County Health is now working on a vaccination plan for COVID-19, and will be ready to swing into action when a vaccine is approved. Frontline health workers will get priority, then vulnerable congregate care residents, and she hopes that by spring of 2021, “anyone who wants to can take the vaccine,” she said.

Becker County Public Health will fill in the gaps as needed, letting hospitals, clinics and pharmacies lead the way on vaccinations, she said.

Until then, she urged everyone to take immediate action to stop the spread, since the death rate spikes when hospital intensive care units start overflowing with COVID-19 patients. And this area is coming perilously close to that now.

“I would ask everyone to mask up, keep 6 feet away from others, and stay home when you’re sick,” she said.