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What percent of St. Cloud-area deaths are COVID-19 related?

Nora G. Hertel
St. Cloud Times

Editor's note: This article is exclusive to subscribers of the St. Cloud Times. Thank you for your continued support of local journalism.

COVID-19 has been a factor in 15% of deaths in Benton County through December 21 this year. 

Farmers, teachers, a priest, a welder and a nurse are among the 77 COVID-19-related deaths in Benton County.

Across Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties 305 residents have died with COVID-19 considered a factor in their deaths, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's Wednesday report

The St. Cloud Times reviewed Minnesota public death records from Jan. 1 through Dec. 21 to learn about the people we lost this year and explore the trend lines of COVID-19 in our communities. 

COVID-19 deaths became a large percent of local deaths beginning in October.

St. Cloud lost a total of 63 residents to COVID-19 through Dec. 21. Sartell lost 34 in that same time frame, 19 of those traced to an outbreak at a single senior housing facility.

A portion of Minnesota public death records reveals first and second-listed causes of death for all 72 November 2020 deaths in Benton County. Yellow highlighting indicates the 37 COVID-19-related deaths that month.

COVID-19 deaths make up more than 12% of all deaths in the tri-county area so far this year.

RELATED: What do death records reveal about COVID-19 deaths in Central Minnesota?

Here are more insights from each county in the St. Cloud area.

Stearns County 

Stearns had 27 COVID-19-related deaths through September.

That figure more than doubled in October and doubled again in November to reach 133 by the start of December. 

Stearns County residents who died with COVID-19 listed as a cause of death range in age from 36 to 101, according to state death records.

The St. Cloud Times is not naming individuals to protect their privacy, but a review of their obituaries show a range of beloved people. Stearns County's COVID-19 deaths also include state Sen. Jerry Relph who has been named because he is a public figure and the Times previously reported on his death. 

RELATED: St. Cloud Sen. Jerry Relph, who tested positive for COVID-19, has died

Relph is the only senator listed among local coronavirus-related deaths. The list also includes former employees of Electrolux and clients of WACOSA, people who liked to barbeque, make jewelry or knit. They're people who left behind children and grandchildren, siblings and even, sometimes, grandparents. 

Death records list professions, and among the Stearns County residents who died due to COVID-19 are an artist, a veterinarian, many homemakers, mechanics, and someone who was both a farmer and bus driver. They include a surgical technician, a postal service worker, an accountant, a carpenter, a food service worker and many more. 

Many times the obituaries do not list COVID-19 as the cause of death. The death records include multiple causes and contributing factors. Public health experts count as COVID-19 deaths the deaths that would not have occurred now if the patient had not also become infected with the coronavirus. 

Older adults and residents of long-term care facilities have been more vulnerable to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That proves true in Stearns County death records. 

Albany and Cold Spring each lost 16 residents to COVID-19 this year and most of those deaths took place at a single facility in each city. 

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Benton County

Benton County had three COVID-19 deaths from March through September.

In October, COVID-19 was a factor in nearly a third of the county's deaths. 

In November, COVID-19-related deaths were more than half of all deaths in Benton County. 

Girl and Boy Scout leaders and members of local churches are among the people who died in Benton County due to COVID-19. The list includes the descendant of a local city's founder, a journeyman who told good jokes, sports fans, a homecoming queen and dog and cat lovers. One will be remembered for their wit, another for their love of gardening, according to various obituaries. 

Benton County had reported 456 deaths as of Dec. 21, and 68 were linked to COVID-19. They range in age from 47 to 101. 

Most of those deaths can be traced to Sauk Rapids and Sartell. Foley reported seven COVID-19-related deaths as of that date, Rice had five and Oak Park and Minden Township had each reported one. 

Sherburne County

COVID-19 has not hit Sherburne County as hard as Stearns and Benton. 

Sherburne had reported 55 COVID-19-releated deaths as of Dec. 21. That's 8% of all reported deaths in the county through that date. 

Elk River was home to 20 who died from the infection, and St. Cloud home to 15. Eight in Zimmerman died from COVID-19, four in Big Lake and four in Clear Lake. Becker was home to two such deaths. 

COVID-19 was responsible for a third of Sherburne County deaths in November. 

People who died from the infection range in age from 50 to 99 in Sherburne County and include a nun, a realtor, an ironworker and a self-employed artist, according to death records. The county also lost engineers, a private investigator, a taxidermist, homemakers and a lab tech. 

The family of one will miss their smile, according to an obituary. Another will be remembered for their big heart. 

Nora Hertel is the government watchdog reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8746 or nhertel@stcloudtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @nghertel.