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Hospital lands machine for rapid tests


January 15, 2021

Contributed photo

Community Memorial Hospital director of lab services Nikki Wilmes with the BioFire Covid-19 testing equipment. Staff have started training on the new state-of-the-art rapid testing device.

Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet is now the owner of a rapid testing device which can produce Covid-19 results in approximately an hour.

Once a sample is gathered from a patient using a nasopharyngeal swab, the BioFire diagnostic tool identifies and replicates genetic material to produce a positive or negative Covid result. This instrument can also be used to test for 20 other respiratory diseases, including influenza and strep. The purchase of this equipment was made possible with funds from Carlton County.

"This method of testing produces very accurate and precise results in a relatively quick manner," said CMH lab services director Nikki Wilmes.

There is a priority list for what cases are tested with BioFire. For now, only priority list tests will be performed using the BioFire equipment.

County Covid numbers

Carlton County Covid-19 case numbers increased by 70 cases over the past week, while four more deaths from Covid were reported from Jan. 6-13.

As of Wednesday, Jan. 13, Carlton County had seen a cumulative total of 2763 Covid-19 cases and 42 deaths, according to the most recent numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health. Also Tuesday, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reported a total of 189 positive tests so far - an increase of three since last week - with an unchanged 91 of those on the reservation.

The state's Jan. 7 report by zip code showed nearly every Carlton County zip code with a continued decline in new cases. Reporting zero new cases were Cromwell, Wrenshall and Sawyer. Cloquet reported 1238 cumulative cases, an increase of 56 cases from the week before. The week before (reported Dec. 31) there had been only 18 new cases, but officials said reporting may have been affected by the holidays. Carlton saw an increase of 11 cases to 259 in the Jan. 7 report. Esko reported 350 cases, a jump of 12. Moose Lake was up to 398 cases, 15 new cases since the week before. Barnum showed 192 cases, an increase of 10. Kettle River jumped by two to 37 cumulative cases. Holyoke went up by one to 33.

In terms of the rate of positive cases, Carlton County now has a cumulative rate of 5.2 percent: that's the average rate of positive cases per 10,000 people since testing began last spring. The percent of positive cases from Dec. 20-26 (the most recent dates available) came in at 2.1 percent, down from 2.9 percent the week before.

In May, the World Health Organization recommended that the percent positive should remain below 5 percent for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening.

The state's Covid measurement for schools is dropping too: it sits at 51.21 cases per 10,000 people in the most recent report on Jan. 7, which measured rates from Dec. 13-26.

There are three facilities on the latest list of Carlton County senior living facilities that had or have Covid-19 exposure, including Augustana Mercy Health Care Center, Inter-Faith Care Center and New Perspective Cloquet.

New strain arrives

The new variant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus first detected in the United Kingdom was identified by genomic sequencing in positive specimens from five residents of four different counties in the Twin Cities metro area. Four of the cases were identified through the MDH Public Health Laboratory, and one was identified through CDC.

Early indications are that a new variant of Covid may spread more easily, but there is no sign yet that they are any different in terms of how sick people can get and how they affect any particular person. The variant strain had been found in Minnesota and a handful of other states since first appearing in Europe last month.

The state says public health recommendations haven't changed and people should continue to take the critical steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19: Wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, avoid gatherings, wash hands often, and stay home if you feel sick or have been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.

State help discussed

Minnesota House Democrats unveiled their first priorities of the 2021 legislative session on Wednesday, a package of five bills to assist workers, families and small businesses struggling due to the ongoing pandemic.

The legislation includes an economic security bill that would provide housing assistance to renters and homeowners, $500 payments to low-income families, and broadband expansion for unserved and underserved parts of the state.

A worker protection bill would offer paid leave to health care workers, workers' compensation for school employees who contract Covid-19 and an increase in unemployment insurance for Social Security recipients, who receive lower benefits than other workers when they lose their jobs.

Minnesota Public Radio News contributed to this report.


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