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Covid cases continue to plague region and state

Community transmission of Covid-19 locally and statewide has been consistently “high” since August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And it’s not getting any better yet. Like last winter, cases are climbing as the temperatures drop.

“The Delta variant doesn’t seem to play by the same rules as [the initial Covid strains],” said Carlton County public health nurse Jenny Barta, the county’s Covid-19 subject matter expert. “We’re seeing some waning of vaccine protection but it (the vaccine) is still doing a very good job of keeping fully vaccinated individuals out of the hospital and keeping them from dying.”

Barta was thrilled to see federal health officials approve Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for all adults Friday, Nov. 19.

Minnesota Department of Health commissioner Jan Malcolm said boosters will help protect adults and slow the spread of Covid, “which is extremely important given our tight hospital capacity,” she said, adding that people need to continue masking, testing and social distancing. Getting vaccinated is critical, she said.

Barta acknowledged that people are tired. “We’re almost two years into this, so there’s a lot of mental and physical fatigue that goes along with continuing these mitigation measures over and over again. Right now, we’re in the cold and flu season and our Covid case rates have increased significantly.”

It is recommended that all Minnesotans 18 and older who finished their primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago get a Covid-19 booster shot, and all Minnesotans 18 and older who got the Johnson & Johnson should get a booster shot at least two months after their single dose.

Barta shared that local vaccination rates are trending up. As of Nov. 17, 99 percent of Carlton County residents age 65 and older had had at least one vaccine dose, and 95 percent had had two doses. For ages 50-64, those rates were 79 and 76 percent, and for ages 18-49, 65- and 61 percent. Teenagers 12-15 years old were at 61- and 56 percent, and it was lower for ages 16-17 at 59- and 55 percent. Countywide, 15 percent of children ages 5-11 had had one dose, but they were only recently approved for the Covid vaccine Nov. 2.

More numbers

Carlton County crossed the 5,000-mark for cases last week with 5,105 cumulative cases and 72 total deaths due to Covid as of Friday, Nov. 19. That was an increase of 30 cases from the MDH weekly report issued a day before.

According to the CDC Covid data tracker, as of Sunday, Nov. 21, Carlton County had a positivity rate of 9.36 percent (the percentage of Covid tests that are positive), up from 7.7 percent from Nov. 11-15.

Over a 10-day period, Carlton County saw three deaths caused by Covid, one each in the 20-24, 40-44 and 50-54 age groups.

Statewide, the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic stood at 9,155 as of Nov. 17. While death rates for the younger generations are still much lower, case counts are significantly higher. Here’s a sampling of the statewide numbers:

Up to 4 years old: 26,312 cases, one death;

Age 5-9: 40,147 cases, two deaths;

Age 10-14: 50,449 cases, zero deaths;

Age 15-19: 67,463 cases, two deaths;

Age 20-24: 76,501 cases, eight deaths.

The case numbers go down and the deaths rise steadily from that point. The highest number of deaths is in the 85- to 89-year-old group at 1,151 deaths out of 9,105 cumulative cases.

Congregate care facilities listed that reported an exposure from a case of Covid-19 in a resident, staff person, or visiting provider in Carlton County included Augustana Kenwood Place, Augustana Mercy Health Care Center, Moose Lake Village, New Perspective Senior Living and Sunnyside Health Care Center. That doesn’t necessarily mean the exposure resulted in new Covid cases.

There are five schools in the county on the MDH list of schools with five or more cases over a two-week period. For the week of Sept. 19-Oct. 2, that included both Barnum elementary and secondary schools and Esko elementary and secondary. Cloquet Middle School and Esko’s Winterquist Elementary School made the most recent MDH list, from Oct. 3-16.