REGIONAL- Fifteen new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were reported for St. Louis County on Tuesday, the largest single-day increase in the county to date in the …
REGIONAL- Fifteen new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were reported for St. Louis County on Tuesday, the largest single-day increase in the county to date in the ongoing pandemic. Reflecting a state and nationwide trend, most of those new cases were among young adults.
Indeed, nine of the 15 cases involved people under the age of 30. Young people between the ages of 20 and 29 now represent 27 percent of the cases identified in St. Louis County, which is five percent higher than the statewide average. None of the new cases in the county were associated with long-term care facilities, which drove previous spikes.
The new cases pushed the total number of cases confirmed in St. Louis County to 195, a 65-percent surge since June 3, two days before Gov. Tim Walz relaxed restrictions on businesses and public gatherings. Statewide, 39,133 cases and 1,477 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus as of Tuesday.
“It’s not a complete surprise to see this increase in cases as more and more activities are allowed to resume, and people are interacting with others more and more,” said Linnea Mirsch, St. Louis County Director of Public Health and Human Services. “But it really makes clear that all of us need to remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and those around us and doing what we can to prevent the spread.”
Clear evidence that younger adults are accounting for a greater share of cases can be found in the statewide median age for COVID-19 cases, which is now 38.4 years. State health commissioner Jan Malcolm termed it “quite a notable drop” from the median age of 41.5 years at the beginning of June.
St. Louis County’s median age has traditionally skewed much older than the state average due to outbreaks in Duluth-area long-term care facilities that drove early COVID case numbers, but with new cases shifting to community-based sources, the county’s median case age has dropped to 50 years of age.
Mirsch said that while changing protocols have allowed for more widespread testing than in the early months of the pandemic, increased testing doesn’t account for the numbers they’re seeing.
“Our positive rate is incredibly low,” Mirsch said, “so it is not explained by an increase in testing.”
And while early testing efforts were limited to high risk populations and long-term care facilities, recent testing has revealed that community transmission, including travel-related contacts, are driving the increasing numbers.
“It’s complicated, but it’s really important to remember how much testing protocols have changed over the past four months. Whether out-of-state or in-state, these are community transmission cases more and more,” Mirsch said.
While officials don’t provide details on specific cases or cities, Mirsch emphasized that Tuesday’s surge included cases from both rural and urban areas. Following a meeting Monday, Mirsch was able for the first time Wednesday to provide a clearer picture of how cases are distributed around the county.
“It is important to emphasize every commissioner district in St. Louis County has been impacted by COVID-19,” Mirsch said. “Confirmed cases are being reported in both rural and urban locations and across all ages.”
Overall, 73 percent of county cases thus far have been in Duluth, with the remaining 27 percent outside of the city, Mirsch said. A look at the monthly data reveals that cases in April were skewed heavily toward Duluth area long-term care facilities, when 88 percent of cases were found in Duluth. Since then one-third of the cases in the county have been outside of Duluth, and that breakdown is trending even more heavily towards other parts of the county as summer has arrived.
“It’s only July 8 and there’s a delay in getting test results, but right now the majority of cases are outside of Duluth for the month of July,” Mirsch said.
Mirsch cautioned that location data could create a false sense of security in some areas at a time when health officials across the country have increasing concerns about transmission of the virus by those who show no symptoms of COVID-19.
“Data regarding locations of confirmed cases paints an incomplete picture at best,” Mirsch said. “As we have said from the beginning, people should follow all recommended guidance to protect themselves and minimize the spread of COVID-19 regardless of where the confirmed cases are because there are likely many more cases than we are aware of.”
Continued testing in long-term care facilities has revealed that even people in high-risk populations can be asymptomatic, Mirsch said.
“We can only assume an even greater prevalence of asymptomatic carriers within the general population,” said Mirsch. “The CDC estimates that the number of people infected with COVID-19 could be as great as 10 times higher than the number of laboratory-confirmed cases,” she said.
Mirsch strongly encouraged people to follow the prevailing guidance regarding social distancing and wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus.
“This is a novel virus – we are all learning right now,” she said. “There is unexplained hospitalization and fatalities without underlying conditions. I think the reality is that we absolutely have to consider that when we make recommendations for public health, we’re making recommendations for the whole of the community.”