A1 A1
alert top story
Tornado spotted between Wilson and Stockton Sunday night
National Weather Service La Crosse 

The National Weather Service La Crosse's skycam took pictures of the Winona County storm at about 8:40 p.m. Sunday as a tornado neared the ground.

Sirens blared in multiple cities in Winona County Sunday night as a likely EF0 tornado was spotted between Wilson and Stockton about 8:40 p.m., the National Weather Service in La Crosse confirmed based on reports from trained spotters.

Lewiston Ambulance reported on Facebook that the Lewiston Fire Department witnessed the same tornado touching down between Wyattville and Lewiston at 8:38 p.m.

National Weather Service La Crosse 

The National Weather Service La Crosse's skycam took pictures of the Winona County storm at about 8:40 p.m. Sunday as a tornado neared the ground.

The storm included hail — from pea size to dime size and quarter-size hail — and gusts of wind that included speeds of 60 mph.

NWS confirmed multiple funnel clouds were reported as the storm traveled through southeast Minnesota. Funnel cloud locations included Stockton, Lyle, Elkton and Kellogg.

The Winona County tornado was the only one recorded for the storm. Damage and location assessments were ongoing Monday.

Some large tree branches were reported down Sunday night in Lewiston.

Rachel Mergen, Winona Daily News 

Dark clouds loomed over Lewiston and the surrounding area Monday morning, a reminder of the severe storm that hit Winona County Sunday evening that included a tornado. While barely any damage can be seen in the Lewiston community, puddles could be seen Monday on the streets.

No people were injured or killed by the tornado.

NWS reported Monday that it is unknown what top speeds, path length and the maximum width of the tornado were.

Jim Trouten photo 

The storm Sunday night rolled over county, including the city of Winona.

Jim Trouten photo 

The Sunday storm rolled over Winona. Pictured are the clouds in the area of Jefferson Elementary School in Winona.

Melissa Lynn photo 

Pictured is the sky during the Sunday storm that rolled through Winona County.

Benjamin Rocky Steinquist photo 

Pictured is the Sunday storm clouds above Sioux and Tenth streets in Winona at about 9:02 p.m.

Contributed photo 

Pictured is the Sunday severe thunderstorm above Homer Ridge.

Alicia Lano photo 

Pictured is Sunday's severe storm above Centerville with a view toward Winona.

Dallas Fitch photo 

Pictured, over Pickwick, is Sunday severe storm that rolled through Winona County.

Bradley A Anderson photo 

Pictured is the Sunday storm over Minnesota City with a view toward Stockton.

Tabitha Morrison photo 

Pictured is Sunday's severe storm over a Cotter Schools building in Winona.

Tracking coronavirus cases proves difficult

HOUSTON — Health departments around the U.S. that are using contact tracers to contain coronavirus outbreaks are scrambling to bolster their ranks amid a surge of cases and resistance to cooperation from those infected or exposed.

With too few trained contact tracers to handle soaring caseloads, one hard-hit Arizona county is relying on National Guard members to pitch in. In Louisiana, people who have tested positive typically wait more than two days to respond to health officials — giving the disease crucial time to spread. Many tracers are finding it hard to break through suspicion and apathy to convince people that compliance is crucial.

Contact tracing — tracking people who test positive and anyone they’ve come in contact with — was challenging even when stay-at-home orders were in place. Tracers say it’s exponentially more difficult now that many restaurants, bars and gyms are full, and people are gathering with family and friends.

“People are probably letting their guard down a little ... they think there is no longer a threat,” said Grand Traverse County, Michigan, Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger, who was alerted by health officials in another part of the state that infected tourists had visited vineyards and bars in her area.

Her health department was then able to urge local residents who had visited those businesses to self-quarantine.

Hirschenberger was lucky she received that information — only made possible because the tourists had cooperated with contact tracers. But that’s often not the case.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said last week that contact tracing simply isn’t working in the U.S.

Some who test positive don’t cooperate because they don’t feel sick.

Others refuse testing even after being exposed. Some never call back contact tracers. And still others simply object to sharing any information.

Another new challenge: More young people are getting infected, and they’re less likely to feel sick or believe that they’re a danger to others.

While older adults were more likely to be diagnosed with the virus early in the pandemic, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the picture flipped almost as soon as states began reopening. Now, people 18 to 49 years old are most likely to be diagnosed.

On Monday, the United States reported 38,800 newly confirmed infections, with the total surpassing 2.5 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. For a few days now, daily reported cases in the U.S. have broken the record set in April. That partially reflects increased testing.

Some states were caught off guard by the surge and are trying to quickly bolster the number of contact tracers.

“Right now we have an insufficient capacity to do the job we need to,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said recently, announcing he wanted to use federal coronavirus relief funds to increase the number of contact tracers to 900.

Arkansas already has 200 doing the job, but infections have risen more than 230% and hospitalizations nearly 170% since Memorial Day. Businesses that had closed because of the virus were allowed to reopen in early May, and the state further eased its restrictions this month.

In addition to needing more staff to handle rising case numbers, contact-tracing teams also must build trust with people who might be uneasy or scared, said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director for Harris County Public Health in Houston, where an outbreak threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

That’s difficult to do if infected people don’t return calls.

In Louisiana, only 59% of those who have tested positive since mid-May have responded to phone calls from contact tracers, according to the latest data from the state health department. Just one-third answered within the crucial first 24 hours after the test results. Tracers there get an answered phone call, on average, more than two days after receiving information about the positive test.

Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, said COVID-19 spreads so fast that contact tracers need to get in touch with 75% of the potentially exposed people within 24 hours of their exposure to successfully combat the spread.

“Is it as good as we would like? Well, obviously not,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana’s state health officer. “It’s better than not having it.”

Contact tracers around Utah’s capital of Salt Lake City have seen caseloads double and cooperation wane since the economy reopened, said health investigator Mackenzie Bray. One person who wasn’t answering calls told Bray they didn’t want to waste her time because they and their contacts weren’t high-risk — a dangerous assessment because the person might not know the health history of their contacts, Bray said.

Getting people to act on tracers’ advice also is a challenge. In the Seattle area, only 21% of infected people say they went into isolation on the day they developed symptoms. People, on average, are going three days from time they develop symptoms until they test, said Dr. Matt Golden, a University of Washington doctor who is leading case investigations for King County Public Health Department.

Since people are infectious for two days before symptoms, that means many are spreading the virus for five days, he said.

alert top story
One new COVID-19 case confirmed in Winona County; total reaches 113

One new COVID-19 case in Winona County was confirmed Monday by the Minnesota Department of Health, raising the total to 113.

No information about this new case will be released by the county to protect privacy.

No new COVID-19 deaths were reported, leaving the total at 15.

In Minnesota, 35,861 of 592,955 COVID-19 tests have come back positive, with 31,225 of these patients no longer needing to be in isolation and 1,435 having died.

Statewide, 4,031 people have required hospitalization because of COVID-19, with 278 remaining in hospitals Tuesday.

For daily Minnesota COVID-19 situation updates, visit the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.

Databank: Maps and more you can use to track COVID-19 spread

Billions in aid go unclaimed

NEW YORK — Billions of dollars offered by Congress as a lifeline to small businesses struggling to survive the pandemic are about to be left on the table when a key government program stops accepting applications for loans.

Business owners and advocacy groups complain that the money in the Paycheck Protection Program was not fully put to work because the program created obstacles that stopped countless small businesses from applying.

For those that did seek loans, the ever-changing application process proved to be an exercise in futility.

“It was a flawed structure to begin with,” said John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an advocacy group. “It favored established businesses. It was set up to give money to people with strong banking relationships.”

The program’s shortcomings also made it more difficult for minority businesses to get loans, according to a report from the Center for Responsible Lending, a research group.

The loans were designed to give companies devastated by government-ordered shutdowns money to pay staffers and survive. The money was aimed at small businesses such as restaurants, retailers and salons that are trying to stay afloat as the U.S. economy reopens in fits and starts.

As of late Friday, the Small Business Administration approved more than 4.7 million loans worth almost $518 billion. Small businesses that also included medical offices, dry cleaners and manufacturers obtained money that ultimately saved jobs and eased the unemployment rate from April’s staggering 14.7% to May’s still-excruciating 13.3%.

But more than $140 billion in loan money remained unclaimed out of $659 billion allocated by Congress. It will be up to Congress to decide what to do with leftover funds, an SBA spokeswoman said.

Some banks rejected any companies that did not have multiple accounts. Sole proprietors and freelancers had to wait a week before applying, and many found they could not supply the kind of documents the government and banks demanded.

The program’s biggest appeal was its promise that loans would be forgiven, but confusion abounded about requirements owners had to meet to get that forgiveness.

Those requirements and information about the program kept changing: Between March 31 and June 15, the SBA issued 35 changes to program rules and its frequently asked questions, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued last week. It was not until May 22, seven weeks after the program began, that the SBA and the Treasury Department released the first instructions and applications for loan forgiveness.

“It’s been a moving target this whole time,” Arensmeyer said.

For many small business owners, a big drawback was the law’s original requirement that companies use loan money within eight weeks, with a June 30 spending deadline. That gave businesses like restaurants two undesirable choices: recall laid-off workers immediately and risk having to lay them off again after eight weeks, or wait to use the money and then have to repay part of the loan.

“We knew it was a problem a week after the legislation was signed, when we looked at the shutdown orders,” said Karen Kerrigan, CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, an advocacy group. At that point, it was clear that businesses were going to be closed longer than initially thought, and that the impact of the virus would be felt well after June 30, she said.

Not until June 3, less than four weeks before the deadline, did the Senate give final approval to extending the time frame to 24 weeks.

The law also required that companies spend 75% of their loan money on payroll to get forgiveness. But some businesses, like closed restaurants, needed money for rent and costs to reopen. They also worried about being stuck with a loan. Congress did not lower the payroll requirement to 60% until June.

“It was too late for many companies,” said Todd McCracken, CEO of the advocacy group National Small Business Association. He summed up the program as “poorly designed from the start.”