REGIONAL- The deaths of nine residents of St. Louis County long-term care facilities from COVID-19 in the past week have been reported by county health officials as the coronavirus pandemic continues …
REGIONAL- The deaths of nine residents of St. Louis County long-term care facilities from COVID-19 in the past week have been reported by county health officials as the coronavirus pandemic continues to extend its reach into the region.
Nine of the ten county deaths reported between Thursday, Sept. 17 and Wednesday, Sept. 22 were residents of long-term care facilities. Seven of them were women— two in their seventies and five in their nineties. Two men, one in his seventies and the other in his nineties, also died in long-term care.
Ely Carefree Living, The Waterview Woods in Eveleth, The Waterview Pines in Virginia, and Heritage Manor in Chisholm, are four of the six long-term care facilities in St. Louis County on the state’s current list of COVID-affected facilities. The other two are in the Duluth area. Neither the county or the state discloses the number of cases or deaths in individual facilities, and facilities are not required to release such information, although they may choose to do so.
The Timberjay confirmed through online obituaries that one of those deaths was at Ely Carefree Living, bringing the number of obituary-confirmed COVID deaths since Sept. 11 at that facility to five. Spectrum Health Companies CEO Merle Sampson, operator of Ely Carefree Living, has not responded to repeated requests from the Timberjay for additional information. On Sept. 15, Spectrum reported four deaths at the facility on its COVID-19 webpage but did not specifically state the deaths were due to COVID-19. The website also indicated additional COVID-19 patients at the facility.
The Timberjay also identified an additional obituary-confirmed COVID-19 death of a man in his nineties at The Waterview Woods in Eveleth who died over the weekend.
State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm confirmed a recent increase in COVID cases in long-term care facilities during a Monday press conference.
“We have seen an uptick in cases among long-term care residents again,” Malcom said. “It appears quite strongly through our case investigation process that long-term care cases now are not resident-to-resident transmission in the facilities but are health care workers being exposed in the community and unknowingly bringing the virus into the facility. We do expect with this high level of cases there will continue to be transmission to higher risk groups as well, that likely will drive up hospitalizations.”
A day after Ely Public School announced last week that they were switching from all in-school learning to a hybrid model of limited attendance for middle and high schoolers due to a surge in local coronavirus cases, the district received confirmation of two positive COVID-19 cases in the school. (See separate story on Page 1.)
Schools in ISD 2142 remain free of any positive COVID-19 cases, according to comments made by Superintendent Reggie Engebritson in response to queries at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Engebritson acknowledged that numerous students have been sent home with symptoms that could be associated with COVID-19, but that none have been reported as testing positive. She reviewed established procedures the district will use in the event a positive case is identified and indicated that preserving confidentiality of health information would limit the type of information that would be disclosed.
As of Monday, 351 Minnesota schools “have been impacted by COVID,” according to state infectious disease prevention director Kris Ehresmann. She said 263 schools have reported one case of COVID-19, 81 have had between two and four cases, and seven have had five or more.
Aggressive steps taken to quell a recent coronavirus outbreak on the Bois Forte Reservation appear to have been successful, as no new cases have been reported since a Nett Lake resident tested positive on Sept. 5.
“We tip our hats to the community for doing their part in helping slow the spread of this virus,” senior executive coordinator Louise Isham said.
Sixteen cases were identified during the outbreak, bringing the cumulative total of tribal cases to 17, ten at Nett Lake and seven at Vermilion. According to a Sept. 15 announcement from community health nurse Teri Morrison, all affected individuals had recovered, were no longer contagious, and had been released from isolation.
However, tribal leaders aren’t taking anything for granted. The Nett Lake and Vermilion government centers remain closed to the public, but services are accessible remotely or by appointment, Isham said.
The Native Hearts Fitness Center and Vermilion Wellness Center are offering limited open hours, and key fobs allowing after-hours access have been disabled, Isham said.
Both the Nett Lake and Vermilion Medical Clinics are open by appointment, and the number of people who can accompany patients to appointments is restricted. Isham said people should call ahead if they have questions regarding visits.
Bois Forte pharmacies are also open for curbside service for those who call ahead with their needs, Isham said.
“The Bois Forte Tribal Government continues to hold bi-weekly Tribal Emergency Response Committee (TERC) meetings in an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and to keep the community informed,” Isham said. “Current restrictions are evaluated daily and will continue in the effort to keep employees and members of the community safe. The pandemic is constantly changing and so will the steps taken to keep the coronavirus at bay.”
Additional encouraging news comes in the form of tribal services to youths.
“The Boys and Girls Clubs opened on Monday and seem to be doing well,” Isham said. “The staff have been maintaining a cleaning regimen and other precautions to keep the youth safe. Bois Forte Head Start, Early Head Start, and Childcare are opening Monday, Sept. 28.”