REGIONAL- The trend of COVID infection in St. Louis County is finally heading in the right direction. COVID-19 case numbers and numerous key indicators associated with them have plummeted since …
REGIONAL- The trend of COVID infection in St. Louis County is finally heading in the right direction.
COVID-19 case numbers and numerous key indicators associated with them have plummeted since record-setting numbers in November and December. Even so, they have yet to decline beyond the elevated levels of October as signs remain that a coronavirus outbreak could flare up again.
The seven-day average of cases in St. Louis County peaked on Nov. 16 at 235.6, but as of Jan. 6, the latest data available, that number had plummeted to 57.1, a level not seen since Oct. 20.
In the northern region of the county the seven-day average has dropped from a high of 76.1 to just 13.2 on Jan. 6. While significant, that number still remains within the range of escalating community spread, indicating an ongoing elevated risk of contracting the virus from both known and unknown community sources.
Biweekly case rates used for schools in determining their learning models also improved significantly in the northern part of the county, tumbling more than 80 percent across three weeks from 92.3 to 17.3.
As of Jan. 7, case increases over the prior week in selected North Country zip code areas were all in single digits, with Ely showing just six additional positive tests. Five new cases were identified in Soudan and also in Cook, three in Orr, two in Tower, and one in Embarrass. The Bois Forte Band, which had not reported a new case on its reservation since Dec. 10, reported one new case that was identified on Monday.
County data is consistent with statewide trends that led Gov. Tim Walz to relax a number of the restrictions put in place in November when the pandemic was raging, including allowing restaurants and bars to reopen on Monday for indoor service at 50-percent capacity. When Walz extended the prohibition on indoor dining in December, hospitality industry officials warned that all restaurants would not be able to reopen at the same time due to staffing and food procurement issued. That warning has been playing out this week in the North Country, as only a small number of establishments opened on Monday, with others announcing staggered dates for reopening extending into next week.
But while the trends are encouraging, the numbers are still at the elevated levels of October that had state and county officials sounding alarms of a potential huge spike that came to pass in November and December. County Public Health Director Amy Westbrook said Tuesday that although “the numbers are looking a lot better” it’s still essential that people follow the guidelines for masking, social distancing, and informal gatherings to maintain the trends.
“We’re seeing a lot of community transmission that happens in social gatherings,” she said. “We know how easily COVID-19 spreads. Our numbers went up so quickly in the fall that they’re not as low as they were in the summer. We’re really paying attention to our numbers and hoping that people are heeding the recommendations of the governor because we could get back to where we were in November pretty quickly, unfortunately.”
Westbrook noted that it’s still possible that the county will see an uptick is cases resulting from holiday celebrations and travel, and progressive daily increases last week in the county and statewide seven-day averages reported on Tuesday reinforce that possibility. She also noted that the increases have occurred at the same time testing volume has decreased.
Also of concern to Westbrook were the county’s current hospitalization and death rates.
“We still are seeing our deaths increase from COVID-19,” she said. “Our hospitalizations are starting to level out a bit, but we are still seeing people hospitalized and in the ICU. We really want to see the death rate falling before saying that the hospitals are in a good situation.”
Confirmation came this past weekend that the more highly contagious coronavirus variant discovered in the United Kingdom has found its way to Minnesota. Five cases caused by the variant were identified in Another issue of concern arose this past weekend when five people in the Twin Cities region were diagnosed with COVID-19 cases caused by the variant virus strain from the United Kingdom that is more highly contagious than the strain encountered up until now. At a Tuesday press conference, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she had little doubt that the variant is more widespread and capable of igniting a surge in cases if precautions aren’t followed.
It’s a concern Westbrook shares.
“There’s definitely a risk we would see transmission increase in our community based on the new variant,” she said.