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Community transmission exposure could be why COVID-19 cases rise in St. Louis County

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DULUTH, MN -- With the rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County, health expert Amy Westbrook said the biggest uptick was in July.

Westbrook says out of the 454 confirmed cases to date about 60% of them were reported in July.

"It's difficult to pinpoint a reason why cases are increasing but it could be because of more testing or the lifted restrictions," said Westbrook.
"The stay at home order is lifted so we are seeing more people out, it's summer and more people are out and gathering."

Additionally, Westbrook thinks that could also be the reason why the county is seeing more and more community transmission exposure to the coronavirus, versus spread in congregate care settings as we saw in the fall.

"We were seeing more individuals who had an infection as it relates to healthcare, congregant care settings, travel," said Westbrook.

Ages 20-29 have the largest percentage of the county's cases and hopes the new mask mandate will help decrease numbers said, Westbrook.

"We really want to encourage people to follow that and wear face coverings."

Westbrook added St. Louis County still hasn't seen the peak of the outbreak yet and we need to stay vigilant.

"A vaccine isn't coming anytime soon so we are really relying on each other to prevent and control the transmission of the disease in our community," said Westbrook.

We reached out to St. Luke's and Essentia Health hospitals Tuesday to see if they still feel like they're ready for a possible surge heading into fall.

Both parties gave us their statements below.

Dr. Andrew Thompson with St. Luke’s Infectious Disease Associates:

"We are prepared for a surge of hospitalizations from COVID-19. We’ve been planning and preparing over the past 5 months anticipating this need. We have accumulated a good supply of personal protective equipment and have developed many new workflows in response to the pandemic. Our staff is well-trained and has the expertise to care for patients with COVID-19. We have experienced a persistent shortage of testing capacity, with delayed results from tests performed at outside labs and critically limited supplies of rapid tests that we perform locally."

Essentia Health-St. Mary's Hospital:

"Just as we’ve been doing since this pandemic began, Essentia Health is constantly monitoring the level of COVID-19 activity in our communities to help ensure we are ready to respond to an influx of patients. We continuously assess and adjust our ICU capacity, levels of critical supplies such as personal protective equipment and ventilators, and our staffing, so we have the resources to care for our communities in response to a surge. Close collaboration with local and regional health care colleagues, and at the state level, enables us to share learnings and resources during this crisis.
We know that reducing community spread of COVID-19 by social distancing and the use of face coverings is critical to keeping numbers of patients needing hospitalization as low as possible. We strongly advocate for every member of our communities to follow those practices as the best way to stay healthy, and to protect the elderly and chronically ill among us, who are most vulnerable to COVID-19."

Lyanne Valdez

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