State updates infection rates for St. Louis County

The Minnesota Department of Health updated coronavirus data for the state’s 87 counties that could factor into the decisions of local school districts and long-term care facilities.

The county rates are based on a lagging two-week period, calculating infections per 10,000 residents from July 19 to Aug. 1.

For schools, the equation relates to the state’s suggestions for in-person classes, hybrid models based on students’ ages and full-on distance learning. The Safe Learning Plan introduced last month doesn’t lock schools into a model — the rates and models can vary as time progresses — and local districts have flexibility to work outside the suggestions.

St. Louis County (Pop. 200,000) remains within the guidance for in-person classes for all students with an infection rate 7.70 per 10,000 residents, according to data released Thursday by the state Health Department (MDH). But a record-setting week of new COVID-19 cases last week and higher case rates this week could alter that guidance.

Since June, the county as a whole has seen its infection rate, as equated for schools and care facilities, climb from 1.30 during the period from June 7-20 to 5.70 the week the Safe Learning Plan was introduced. It dipped last week to 4.95 before reaching this week’s rate.

MDH recommends in-person learning for all students in counties with infection rates of 0-9, while guidance for the next tier, 10-19 infections per 10,000, is in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning for secondary students.

It’s worth noting that the majority of the 621 confirmed coronavirus cases in St. Louis County have been located in Duluth (451) with 23 in Hibbing and a total of 22 throughout the Quad Cities region of Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth and Gilbert.

Still, county health officials said this week that residents aged 6-19 are the fastest-growing demographic for infections, accounting for 14 percent of total cases after making up just 2 percent in June.

Spokesperson Dana Kazel said this week that 55 percent of cases in that age range are 18-19 years old and 45 percent between the ages of 6-17. Community transmission is the largest source of infection ahead of “contact with a lab confirmed case,” according to information provided to the county by the state Emergency Operations Center.

A small amount of the confirmed cases in the younger age group are job related and 20 percent are from attending a community event.

Some school districts on the Iron Range are still considering their plans for the 2020-21 school year. Ely recently approved a return to in-person learning and Hibbing recently issued its safety procedures that include screenings, wearing a mask and not allowing locker use, among others.

Long-term care facilities can also use the local data to influence their decisions on what restrictions to put in place after new state guidance was issued this week, effective Aug. 29. It differs slightly from the Safe Learning Plan to include the surrounding community infection rates, the number of active and confirmed cases among a facility’s residents, staff and visiting service providers; and whether staff are working at other long-term care homes.

The new guidance requires facilities to base their policies on whether residents, staff or visiting providers have been exposed to COVID-19 in the previous 28 days. Facilities should also be looking at the 14-day case rate for their county to determine whether to open to visitors, noting a number greater than 10 would put the county at an elevated risk of transmission.

Minnesota health officials reported 697 new cases of COVID-19 and seven new deaths Thursday. The state registered 23 new cases in St. Louis County.

Since the pandemic began in March, the state has logged 62,993 known infections, 1,685 deaths and 56,346 people who have recovered. It also reported 308 people hospitalized and that 154 in intensive care due to breathing problems or other complications.

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