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Nearly every Northland county sets infection records; steepest rise in Carlton County

About half of St. Louis County residents who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 tested positive in October.

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St. Louis County's monthly figures are based on when tests were conducted, not when cases were announced. Cases from October could still roll in over the next few days.
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All but one of the 10 counties in the Northland experienced yet another record-high week of newly reported coronavirus infections.

Among all Northland counties, Carlton County experienced the steepest increase in new cases during the week of Oct. 30-Nov. 5.

This week the county recorded 219 more people who have tested positive, more than doubling its previous record high from last week. As a result of the spike, the Cloquet School District announced Wednesday all grade levels would transition to distance learning next week.

Of those who recently tested positive, 102 of them live in Cloquet's ZIP code, according to the Minnesota Department of Health's weekly update on cases by ZIP code. Esko recorded 22 of the new diagnoses, Moose Lake had 19 and Barnum and Carlton each had 13.

Carlton County has averaged 31.3 new cases a day since Oct. 30. The week prior it averaged 14.6 new cases a day.

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Ashland County's seven-day average also more than doubled, while in Douglas, Bayfield and Itasca counties, the seven-day average of new cases nearly doubled.

With community spread on the rise, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said everyone needs to consider how to limit their interactions outside of their immediate households.

"We have said this over and over, but it just continues to be so true — there is so much we can do as Minnesotans to help affect what happens from this point," Malcolm said in a call with media Wednesday. "We can either help to slow the spread of this virus, or we can help to accelerate it."

Weekly and cumulative testing positivity rates increased in every Northland county except Ashland and Cook in the last week. Weekly positivity rates are the percentage of tests in the last week that came back positive; cumulative positivity rates are the percentage of tests that have come back positive since the pandemic began.

While the testing positivity rates in Ashland and Cook counties decreased, cases still grew more than they had in any other week.

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Health experts consider a positivity rate of 5% or higher to be "too high" for safety. Douglas and Bayfield counties are the only Northland counties with a cumulative rate above 5%. However, when considering the positivity rate for the last week alone, counties above that threshold also include St. Louis, Carlton, Itasca, Aitkin and Ashland counties.

Aitkin and Bayfield counties experienced the biggest jumps in weekly positivity rates with increases of 10.4% and 19.8%, respectively.

St. Louis County

Of the nearly 600 new infections St. Louis County recorded this week, about 325 of those residents live in Duluth, according to the county's COVID-19 dashboard.

New cases this week in other St. Louis County cities:

  • Hibbing, 46
  • Hermantown, 35
  • Virginia, 26
  • Eveleth, 23
  • Chisholm, 16
  • Saginaw, 13
  • Proctor, 10

In October alone, more than 1,800 St. Louis County residents infected with the coronavirus were tested. That's about half of all cases that have been confirmed in the county since the pandemic began. It's a number that could still increase as the county's monthly figures are based on when a person was tested, not when the case was reported.
In the next few days, the county could record more cases for October that were slow to be reported, according to a county spokesperson.

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Testing at the DECC

As of Oct. 31, more than 15,400 tests have been conducted at the free saliva testing site in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and 1,136 of them have come back positive.

Because anyone from Minnesota, and now Wisconsin , can get tested at the DECC, those infections include people from outside St. Louis County.

The testing results put the site's testing positivity rate at 7.4%.

"We're all a little bit surprised because we thought the DECC would have a lower positivity rate," said St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook, adding that the site is commonly used for people without symptoms who want to get tested.

Commissioner Malcolm said that the number of tests administered on a weekly basis at the saliva sites around the state continues to increase each week.

"For example, last week there were more than 3,200 tests in Duluth, which was over 1,200 from the week before," Malcolm said Wednesday.

Itasca County

Itasca County Public Health announced Thursday that the county would scale back on contact tracing efforts in order to focus more efforts on tracing for schools, facilities' work sites and sports teams. With such widespread community spread, the county no longer has the staffing to keep up with the same demand.

When the county is notified a resident has tested positive, staff will still call that person, Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health department manager, said. They'll try to figure out where the person was exposed and ask about their symptoms as well as when they started.

Then the contact tracers will notify work sites, schools or other organizations that there was a exposure and ask them to notify their workers and others.

"We're not going to call every person they were in contact with," Chandler said. "We just don't have the manpower for it and right now it's less likely they have had just one or two contacts and more likely it was contact with a large gathering or religious service where there are a lot of people."

This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5 to correct the number of tests that have been administered at the DECC. It was originally posted at 7:07 p.m. Nov. 5.

News Tribune reporter Adelle Whitefoot contributed to this story.

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