The Minnesota State Fair is more than three weeks in the rearview mirror, but the state's Department of Health (MDH) is still identifying new COVID cases linked to the event.
State health officials have uncovered 340 COVID-19 cases associated with the fair as of Thursday morning, MDH Information Officer Doug Schultz told Bring Me The News. The figure is more than double the 153 cases linked to the State Fair nine days after the get-together's conclusion.
The number has continued to climb in recent days, though appears to be tapering off, Schulz said. A few more could come in over the week or so, he added.
That figure, as is the case with COVID case counts from all events, is likely an underestimate. Individuals who have mild or no symptoms and don't get tested won't show up in the numbers, nor will infected individuals from other states, Schulz said. It also is likely to include people who didn't necessarily contract COVID at the fair, but did attend during their likely exposure period.
The 2021 Minnesota State Fair saw its lowest total attendance figures since 1977, notching a total attendance of 1,301,584 over the 12-day event. The significant drop was possibly driven, at least in part, by concerns over the delta variant and the fair's decision to only encourage but not require face masks and vaccinations.
Case confirmations are still coming in more than three weeks later because investigations can take time.
There is an incubation period before an infection shows itself. Then labs report COVID test results to MDH, whose public health workers follow up by reaching out to infected individuals to discuss where they were and who they were around in the days leading up to the positive test.
It also requires cooperation from those COVID-positive individuals. Schulz said right now, public health workers are interviewing about one in every four cases, though they are reaching out to more.
MDH's most recent outbreak report, published Sept. 24, found 20 outbreaks in August associated with fairs or festivals. Another 15 that month were tied to sports, with eight linked to weddings.
The full number may also be difficult to ascertain given the state has cut back on its contact tracing efforts compared to the start of the pandemic
The Star Tribune recently reported that 80% of COVID cases reported in August came from "unknown" sources, with health commissioner Jan Malcolm saying it's less important to know the source of every infection now compared to in early 2020, when less was known about the virus and how it spreads.