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Northland may have dodged post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case surge

New cases across the Northland have dropped. Deaths, however, have not, and hospital capacity remains "tight."

FSA Coronavirus local

Two weeks from Thanksgiving and the St. Louis County Public Health Division is feeling a "bit optimistic" about the decreasing number of new coronavirus cases.

On Thursday the county reported 99 new cases — the first time the daily case number has dropped below 100 in over a month. The weekly testing positivity rate, or the percentage of diagnostic tests that have come back positive in the last week, dropped from 10.2% last week to 8.5% this week.

And for the first time in months the county did not break its weekly new case record during the week of Dec. 4-10.


The county's public health division director, Amy Westbrook, said any impact from holiday gatherings on the pandemic could still show up in the next couple days. In the days leading up to the holiday, public health officials, doctors and government leaders urged Minnesotans to stay home for the holiday out of fear that gatherings would lead to a dangerous surge in case numbers, putting health care systems over the brink.

"If we were to see Thanksgiving specifically impact our numbers I think we would have started seeing that by now," Westbrook said during a news conference Thursday. "I think it's a good sign we aren't seeing an increase in numbers and we're actually seeing a decrease."

Amy Westbrook file
Amy Westbrook, St. Louis County Public Health Division director, talks during a press conference in March at the St. Louis County Government Services Building in Duluth. (File / News Tribune)

That's not to say people didn't still travel and gather over the holiday, Westbrook said, though she speculated there was less due to Gov. Tim Walz's executive orders.

Regardless of the holiday's impact on the pandemic, Westbrook emphasized that social gatherings remain the main way that the virus is transmitted in the community and asked people to continue avoiding them.

The hospitals are still braced for impact in case the region should still see a quick uptick in cases due to the holiday. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia Health's East Market, "strongly" urged people to reconsider their traditional Christmas celebrations.

"Our hospital capacity remains tight," Pryor said. "To underscore that point on Wednesday, across the entire state, there were only 23 available (intensive care unit) beds. That's not enough ICU beds."


Across the 10-county region of the Northland, about 2,300 more people have tested positive in the last week, according to reports from the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin in the last week. That's the lowest the number has been since the beginning of November.

Despite a dip in case numbers across all 10 counties, the number of deaths from COVID-19 and its complications remains grim. The Northland logged 45 more deaths since Friday, Dec. 4 — the second-highest weekly load.

Twenty-six of those people were St. Louis County residents. About 18% of all of the county's deaths from COVID-19 were reported in the last week.

Nearly 75% of the 147 deaths in the county have been residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities. As of Thursday, Dec. 10, 29 facilities in St. Louis County were on the state's list of sites reporting at least one case of COVID-19. Facilities are removed from the list after 28 days of no new cases.

Number of deaths in other counties in the last week:

  • Carlton, 9.
  • Itasca, Ashland, 3 each.
  • Lake, Douglas, 2 each.

St. Louis County

About 1,100 more St. Louis County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and about half of those people live in Duluth, according to the county's COVID-19 dashboard.

Number of new cases in the last week in other cities:

  • Hibbing, 96.
  • Virginia, 76.
  • Aurora, 48.
  • Hermantown, 46.
  • Chisholm, 45.
  • Eveleth, 23.
  • Mountain Iron, 22.
  • Cook, Gilbert, 21 each.

  • Proctor, 15.

Carlton County

About 230 more people have tested positive in Carlton County. Ninety-seven of those people live in Cloquet's ZIP code, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.


New cases in other ZIP codes:

  • Moose Lake, 59.
  • Carlton, 26.
  • Esko, 21.
  • Cromwell, 13.
  • Barnum, 10.
  • Wrenshall, 7.

The county's weekly testing positivity rate decreased from 9.3% last week to 6.6% this week. Weekly testing positivity rates decreased in all seven counties in Northeastern Minnesota when compared to the previous week's rate.
Carlton County continues to lead the region in both new and cumulative cases per 10,000 residents.

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