IRON RANGE — A significant rise of coronavirus cases in St. Louis County coincided with a large increase across Minnesota, as infections grew across the state’s largest geographic county at a record-setting pace.
Minnesota Department of Health officials recorded more than 2,300 new COVID-19 cases in a three-day span beginning Saturday that included the state’s (915) and county’s (31) largest single-day increases since the pandemic started in March.
Infections in St. Louis County continued to rise faster than all 87 counties except one — McLeod — with 17 more cases reported Monday with 625 across the state. There are 570 total infections in St. Louis County to date and 134 reported in the last seven days, an increase of more than 30.7 percent. McLeod, at 197 total cases, has reported 59 in the last seven days for an increase of 42.8 percent over the same time period.
The increases come after St. Louis County health officials reported just four positive cases from 1,679 total tests during a sponsored event in Chisholm from July 28 to 29. Amy Westbrook, county Public Health division director, said through a press release Monday that large-scale testing events have yielded low positivity rates in the past, but noted officials didn’t know what to expect heading into Chisholm.
A testing event hosted by the Minnesota National Guard over Memorial Day weekend in Duluth yielded only one positive from about 1,300 tests. The county said Monday that the large testing events generally draw in asymptomatic people who voluntarily come in, rather than those feeling sick, noting its a good way to identify carriers who could inadvertently infect others.
"This provides us a point-in-time picture for the presence of the virus in this region," Westbrook said. "We have requested more detailed demographic information from the state regarding age and ZIP codes of those who tested because that will give us an even better understanding."
New age group rising
St. Louis County officials reported Monday that residents ages 6-19 are now the fastest-growing demographic for confirmed COVID-19 cases. In June, the demographic represented just 2 percent of the overall caseload in a county of 200,000 residents, but now account for almost 14 percent.
County spokesperson Dana Kazel said Monday that health officials don’t have a clear idea on what’s behind the 6-19 age group increase, noting some could be socializing and others job-related.
Meanwhile, infections in the 20-29-year-old age range continue to pace the county with 29 percent of the total cases, leading to a large drop in the median age. In April, the median age of county infections was 68 years old. By June, it dropped to 54. It now sits at 36 years old with community transmission as the most common source of exposure, following a statewide trend after bars and restaurants were reopened to indoor service.
Across Minnesota, 20-29 year olds make up the largest percentage (23) of total coronavirus cases despite accounting for only 14 percent of the 5.6 million statewide population, according to a virus tracker created by the Star Tribune. Minnesotans between the ages 30-39 represent 18 percent of cases and 13 percent of the population, while 6-19 year olds make up 12 percent of cases and 19 percent of the population.
The severity of COVID-19 cases for younger people has been significantly lower, but state health officials are worried about the growing trend of community spread exposure infiltrating more vulnerable and high-risk populations, and reversing gains made in long-term care facilities.
The other concern among health officials with increases in the 6-19 age group is the looming restart of fall classes for K-12 schools in early September. State officials and Gov. Tim Walz recently unveiled the Safe Learning Plan, a localized guide for districts to consider how they will reopen based on infection rates per 10,000 people in their county.
St. Louis County currently falls into the recommendation to hold in-person learning for the fall, though a decision is made by the individual school districts, who can wait up until one week before classes start to declare their intention of in-person, distance learning or a hybrid model.