REGIONAL- While last weekend’s fishing opener brought with it a sense of the “return to normal” in the North Country, there’s clear evidence that the coronavirus is not yet …
REGIONAL- While last weekend’s fishing opener brought with it a sense of the “return to normal” in the North Country, there’s clear evidence that the coronavirus is not yet done with the region.
With seven new cases reported last week, the Tower zip code’s cumulative case count has now jumped 28 percent since April 1, from 98 to 126. New cases were also reported last week in Ely, Orr, and Soudan zip codes. And Bois Forte Public Health identified three new cases among teenagers, one at Nett Lake and two at Vermilion.
“The pandemic isn’t going away because the mask mandate went away,” said St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook. “There’s still people who are at risk, and there’s still the possibility of mutations. I’m cautiously optimistic, but it is a pandemic, it’s a new virus, so there’s certainly still cause for concern. The pandemic isn’t over.”
Vaccinations have been a key factor as St. Louis County’s test positivity rate has fallen to 2.8, well below the welcome news that the statewide rate is down to 5.0. Fifty-two percent of the county’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine, slightly higher than the 49 percent reported for the state, according to data posted Tuesday on the state’s vaccine dashboard.
Zip-code specific data requested by the Timberjay covers vaccinations through April 29, but even without the additional two weeks, four of the six North Country zips had vaccination rates consistent with those countywide.
The highest, 55.1 percent, was in Ely, which had additional community vaccination clinics in response to a significant spike of cases in March. Cook had the second-highest rate of people with at least one vaccination at 53.4 percent, followed by Tower, 52.5 percent, and Soudan at 51.7 percent.
Vaccine uptake lagged well behind in Orr, 38.4 percent, and Embarrass, 38.8 percent.
However, in a sign that vaccinations have been slowing down here as they have been throughout the state, between 85 and 90 percent of the 6,967 people who had received vaccinations in the North Country were completely vaccinated, leaving only 880 people who were waiting for their second doses.
Total doses administered as of April 29 ranged from 3,246 in Ely to 248 in Soudan.
“We know that there are areas of the county that have lower vaccination rates, and I am concerned that we don’t have that ideal coverage yet,” Westbrook said. “All we can do is just continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, and if they’re not vaccinated that they would choose to wear masks.”
An indication that the strategy to vaccinate residents and staff in long-term care facilities, or LTCFs, is paying dividends can be found in the state’s COVID update on Tuesday. Of the 14 deaths reported in the state, none were associated with LTCFs. It’s a dramatic reversal from the early days of the pandemic when the effects of COVID-19 were most severely felt among the elderly in long-term care.
The county provided data on four North Country facilities hit by the pandemic, and Carefree Living Ely took the biggest blow. Seventeen residents there contracted COVID-19 and nine of them died of it, according to the primary cause of death listed on their death certificates. Thirteen staff members and/or visiting health providers also tested positive for COVID-19.
Cook Care Center was the other facility that reported a resident death, and that was also the only resident to contract COVID-19. The six other confirmed cases at the facility were among staff members.
Only one resident and three staff members at Boundary Waters Care Center in Ely tested positive for COVID-19, while Carefree Living Cook had only one case, a staff member.
Deaths and cases
Deaths in the North Country caused by COVID-19 haven’t been restricted to those living in long-term care. Six people living in the community at-large also died, for a total of 16 deaths in the region.
The youngest death was a person in the 45-49 age group, and a total of three were under 60 years of age. The other deaths involved three people in their seventies, six people in their eighties, and four people in their nineties, with the oldest in the 95-99 age group.
Four communities felt the losses, including Ely with 12, Cook with two, and Tower and Orr with one each.
Since the start of the pandemic, 781 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the six zip code region, representing approximately eight percent of the total population.
Cumulative case counts in each of the six zip codes as of May 13 include Cook, 178; Ely, 273; Embarrass, 84; Orr, 90; Tower, 126; and Soudan, 30.