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Duluth's Benedictine Living Community grapples with COVID-19 cases, deaths

The outbreak was first discovered in late June when the center underwent its first round of state testing.

The Benedictine Living Community in Duluth pictured in late June. (News Tribune / File)

The novel coronavirus has claimed two lives and infected more than a dozen other residents and staff at the Benedictine Living Community of Duluth.

As of Wednesday, 12 residents and five staff at Benedictine were found to have the virus — an increase from two weeks ago , when the facility reported that seven residents and two staff tested positive for COVID-19.

Benedictine first found coronavirus cases when it underwent a round of state testing June 18, and had plans to do so again the following week, the News Tribune reported. Benedictine underwent yet another round of testing Tuesday, the results of which will be shared in the coming days, a statement said.

"This has been a challenging time for our care community. I am so proud of our team and the way they have pulled together," Executive Director Barb Wessberg said in a statement.

It's now the only congregated care facility in St. Louis County with one or more active cases of the virus, according to the county's daily update .


Ecumen Lakeshore in Duluth was recently on the list, but now has zero active cases, according to Jena Evans, community relations manager.

Among Ecumen's safety precautions are health screenings, limited visitors, mask-wearing and hand-washing requirements, cleaning and disinfection practices.

"Our safety steps in place at our Lakeshore community are more extensive than would be found in our greater community," Evans wrote in an email.

Benedictine is doing all it can to prevent the virus' spread, as "we know that the frail and elderly are especially susceptible to the coronavirus," she said.

Nearly 93% of COVID-19-related deaths in Minnesota have occurred to those older than 60, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Benedictine relocated residents who tested positive to an isolated area in the facility, which is staffed by people assigned solely to that area. These staff closely monitor resident conditions, and have notified families and caregivers of the positive cases.

Residents in Benedictine's Marywood enhanced memory care unit, Westwood independent living facility and Westwood Terrace assisted memory care unit haven't tested positive for the virus, the release said.

Benedictine has prepared for the virus since its start. Residents and staff are checked daily for symptoms, staff wear masks and face shields, and residents are asked to wear masks when staff are in their rooms or if they leave their rooms, the statement said.


"Yet, despite all our careful efforts to follow best infection control measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, we have had some very special people who have tested positive," a statement said.

Benedictine is located in Duluth, where a majority of the county's confirmed cases are located.

The county reports that more than half of its COVID-19-positive people resided in Duluth in March and May, while nearly three-quarters of them were located in the city in June. Over 87% of the county's confirmed cases were located in Duluth in April .

With "well-documented" community spread, county health experts warn that it's possible to contract the virus in other areas of the county.

Residents in congregated living facilities are at greater risk of severe illness from the virus, MDH Infectious Diseases Director Kris Ehresmann said in a Wednesday health department call.

"We know that these visits are ... a very important way to connect with loved ones, but we want to make sure that all visitors help to keep the visit safe by following the social distancing guidance and masking guidance," Ehresmann said.

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