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Duluth hospitals plead for public to take COVID-19 seriously as numbers reach all-time high

Nine of the 10 counties in the Northland had record-high weeks of new coronavirus cases. For most of them, weekly records have been set at least two weeks in a row.

FSA Coronavirus local
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St. Louis County has logged a weekly record of coronavirus infections for the fifth consecutive week.

The county experienced more than a 100% increase in cases compared to the previous week Nov. 6-12. This week brought about 1,200 more St. Louis County residents who recently tested positive.

The county has now passed the 5,000 mark for total cases since the pandemic began.

As usual, St. Louis County wasn't alone. Nearly all 10 of the Minnesota and Wisconsin counties in the Northland, with the exception of Cook County, experienced new weekly highs.

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The numbers paint a grim picture, Dr. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia Health's East Market, said at a city of Duluth news conference Thursday.

"Regardless of what metric you use, COVID-19 has never been this pervasive in the Northland," Pryor said. "If the current trajectory of transmission holds, our communities will be at risk. What we're asking of you is to help protect our frontline health care workers by taking COVID seriously."

Health care resources are spread "dangerously" thin while demand for care is spiking, Pryor said. Still, both Essentia and St. Luke's emphasized that they're prepared to care for non-COVID-19 patients.

Unlike most viruses, Pryor added, people infected with the coronavirus are most infectious two days before symptoms develop. That's why mask wearing, especially, as well as physical distancing are always important. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said wearing a mask not only prevents people around an infected person, it also protects the mask wearer from getting infected.

To bring about change and help beat the virus, St. Luke's chief medical officer, Dr. Nicholas Van Deelen, said that anyone can help by avoiding small gatherings, which are driving the spread.

"If you must gather with people outside of your household, keep the group small and always wear your mask," he said.

St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook said hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to reach new highs in the county. On Thursday, 54 were hospitalized with 15 in an intensive care unit.

She mentioned that public health officials need people to answer their phones when the public health system calls to do case investigation and contact tracing.

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"The information that we collect from you is very important to understanding the spread of the virus and understanding where there could be potential risks of exposure in our community," Westbrook said. "You're not in trouble. There's no repercussion or anything."

A look back at this week's numbers

Every Northland county except Cook experienced an increase in the weekly testing positivity rates — the percentage of diagnostic tests that came back positive in the last week — and some increased more than others.

Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland counties in Wisconsin reported the highest weekly positivity rates at 35%, 40% and 41%, respectively.

Aitkin County had the highest positivity rate of the seven Northeastern Minnesota counties this past week at 29%, followed by Itasca at 19.5%, Carlton at 17.1% and St. Louis County at 15%. Health experts consider 5% and higher to be "too high. "

Of the 1,200 St. Louis County residents who were reported to have tested positive in the last week, roughly 60% live in Duluth, according to the county.

Number of cases since Nov. 6 in other St. Louis County cities:

  • Hibbing, 116
  • Hermantown, 76
  • Virginia, 41
  • Eveleth, 30
  • Chisholm, 27

  • Saginaw, 22
  • Proctor, 20
  • Mountain Iron, 18
  • Culver, 18
  • Cook, 13

All other towns in St. Louis County recorded 10 or fewer new cases.
More than 300 more people in Carlton County have been recorded to have tested positive between Nov. 6-12 — an 84% increase from the previous and former record-high week.

Carlton County continues to lead the Northland in the most cases per 10,000 residents.

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About half — 167 — of those people live in Cloquet's ZIP code, according the state's department of health weekly ZIP code data.

Number of new cases since Nov. 6 in other Carlton County ZIP codes:

  • Esko, 43
  • Moose Lake, 38
  • Barnum, 25
  • Carlton, 24
  • Wrenshall, 17
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