REGIONAL- New COVID-19 cases in the North Country are growing at an even faster rate in the past two weeks than the dangerous rise across the state that prompted new business and social restrictions from Gov. Tim Walz last week.
The zip codes of Orr, Cook, Tower, Soudan, Ely and Embarrass added 118 new cases between Nov. 5 and Nov. 19, a 60.8-percent increase, according to St. Louis County Public Health Department data. Cases statewide increased by 51.6 percent over the same period, and with 7,219 cases added Sunday the total number of cases in the state since the pandemic began stood at 270,157.
“It has been a really hard week in Minnesota, from record numbers of COVID cases to the deaths,” Walz said in a Friday press conference.
Ely saw the largest two-week growth in new cases in the area, at 42, a rate that factored into the decision to shift Ely schools from in-person and hybrid learning to distance learning after Thanksgiving.
A computation used by health officials to allow for comparisons across areas is the number of cases per 10,000 people, and by that measure the Embarrass area has the most densely concentrated number of COVID infections, at 345 per 10,000, in the area. That’s followed closely by Orr at 312.
Orr’s 23 new cases over the past two weeks was the region’s largest increase by percentage, at 76.7 percent.
In response to Walz’s executive order, many restaurants have shifted to take-out and delivery service, while others have decided to close entirely through Dec. 18.County data
Total deaths from COVID-19 in St. Louis County reached 90 last week, with 78 occurring among residents of congregate care facilities and 12 in private residences. The youngest death was a person between 30 and 34 years old. Three more deaths were reported on Sunday, along with 209 new cases in the county.
While older adults are at greater risk of severe health issues from the virus, young adults continue to represent the largest share of total cases and those fueling the recent rapid increase. One out of four cases in the county IS among those between 15 and 24 years old.
The rate of community spread in the northern part of the county, from both known and unknown sources, is also a concern for health officials. While other areas of the county, including Duluth, have seen a significant drop in the most recent data, the trend here has been steadily upward since Nov. 7.
Unchecked community spread across the state, particularly through small informal gatherings, is what prompted Walz’s new restriction to limit gatherings to only people in a single household, throwing Thanksgiving plans out the window for thousands of Minnesotans.
Walz and state health officials also sounded the alarm last week about the state’s hospital capacity, which is on the verge of being overwhelmed by the skyrocketing caseloads, as well as an increasing shortage of health care staff who are being exposed to COVID-19 in community settings.
Online data from the St. Louis County COVID-10 Dashboard for the period of Nov. 5-19 shows hospitalizations increasing by 111 patients, a 47-percent increase.
Testing demand ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday has increased to the point that state officials stepped back Friday from their recommendation that everyone be tested. The new guidelines recommended testing for people with active symptoms, those who have been exposed within the past five days, and anyone working in critical industries like health care, retail, law enforcement and childcare.