The rate at which COVID-19 case growth has been declining in the Northland has slowed in recent weeks.

The same trend is happening across Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said Wednesday in a media call. Meanwhile, northwestern and south-central Minnesota have both experienced an increase in case growth over the last month.

"We must remain vigilant to avoid another wave," Huff said. "Vaccinations are coming and continue to increase and that is fantastic, but we are not there yet. We don't have enough vaccines in arms to stop the next wave of cases."

The 10-county region of the Northland, which includes three Wisconsin counties, has logged 260 new cases for two consecutive weeks. Since early January, the weekly number of new cases in the region has decreased until this week.

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As vaccinations against COVID-19 increase, deaths from the illness have declined.

During the week of Feb. 12-18, the Northland recorded three new deaths from COVID-19: two in St. Louis County and one in Douglas County.

In the last week, Feb. 19-25, the region saw six more deaths. Two of those people lived in Douglas County, while Itasca, Lake, Carlton and Bayfield counties each had one death.

Testing for COVID-19 has declined this week in Northeastern Minnesota. Fewer than 6,000 new COVID-19 tests were completed this week in the region. That's down about 25% from last week's testing volume.

The percentage of tests that have come back positive in the last week has met or passed the 5% safety threshold in two of the seven Northeastern Minnesota counties. Aitkin County had a 12.2% positivity rate as of Thursday, while Itasca County had a 5% rate.

Health experts consider testing positivity rates of 5% and above as an indicator of widespread community transmission.

St. Louis County

For the first time since June, St. Louis County has recorded no new COVID-19 deaths this week, or since Feb. 18.

A little more than 100 additional county residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state data from the last week.

New cases in St. Louis County postal communities since Feb. 19:

  • St. Louis — 44.
  • Eveleth, Virginia — each had 9.
  • Mountain Iron — 7.
  • Gilbert — 5.

All other postal communities had fewer than five new cases this week, according to St. Louis County.

The percentage of tests that came back positive this week in St. Louis County was 2%, nearly two points lower than the statewide rate.

Carlton County

In the last week, Carlton County had 18 new COVID-19 cases. Seven of those people live in Cloquet's ZIP code, according to state data.

Four people each live in the ZIP codes containing Barnum and Carlton.

The county's seven-day testing positivity rate was 1.7% as of Thursday, the third lowest in Northeastern Minnesota, following Koochiching and Cook counties.

Vaccines

Vaccinations in Northeastern Minnesota grew by nearly 1,400 on Thursday. More than 65,300 in the seven-county region have now received at least one dose, while a little under half of those people have completed the two-dose series.

On the same day, Gov. Tim Walz announced that 70% of those over age 64 in Minnesota must be vaccinated before the state moves on to the next vaccine phases, which will be people with specific high-risk health conditions as well as targeted essential workers such as food processing plant employees. Statewide, 43% of those age 65 and older have been vaccinated, while in Northeastern Minnesota, that number is 50%.

READ MORE Walz: 70% of older Minnesotans must be vaccinated before expanding eligibility

READ MORE What you need to know about vaccinations in St. Louis, Carlton, Douglas counties

Vaccinations grew by almost 600 in Wisconsin's Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties on Thursday, bringing the region's total to nearly 10,600 who have had at least one dose. A little less than one-third of those people have now received both doses.