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As COVID-19 cases surge, Itasca County suspends contact tracing

Health officials instead will focus on high-risk settings, like schools and long-term care facilities.

Public health officials in Itasca County are suspending contract tracing due to the "very high level of COVID-19" in the county.

In a news release Monday, Itasca County public health officials said it is suspending contact tracing with individuals so they can focus on protecting high-risk settings like schools, childcare facilities, long-term care, places of worship, workplaces and sports teams. 

This comes as the county's 14-day infection rate hit a record 74.1 per 10,000 residents for the two-week period ending Nov. 6. That's a huge jump from the previous infection rate in the county of 40.93 per 10,000 for the period ending Oct. 24.

“If you are in a group setting, just assume that someone has COVID,” said Kelly Chandler, department manager for Itasca County Public Health. “If you care about your family, your friends, your community — wear your mask. Avoid gatherings. Keep six feet distance. 

"When we made these choices in October, we drove our rates down. We can — we must — do it again and keep doing it," Chandler added.

In October, Itasca County, which has a population of about 43,000, saw a "promising decline" in its 14-day case rate after it had hit a then-record high of 51.77 per 10,000 cases for the period of Sept. 27-Oct. 10.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 18 deaths and 1,108 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Itasca County residents, including 21 new cases reported Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Health's website shows

And many of those cases have come in the past few weeks, with county health officials saying Monday that 205 of the cases came in the past week and 357 came in the past week weeks.

For comparison, Eric Killelea of the Mesabi Tribune said that as of early September, the county had 225 cases and 13 deaths in total. 

Meanwhile, 11 residents in the county were hospitalized as of Monday, including three in the intensive care unit. Due to a shortage of hospital and ICU beds in the region, county health officials are encouraging people to get their flu shot.

“We don’t want to use up health care resources needlessly,” Chandler said in a statement. “Facilities are, unfortunately, needing to re-implement surge plans from last spring. Each of us needs to stay on top of our health right now, building up our resilience and keeping extra pressure off our health care systems.”

In the past 14 days, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Minnesota has nearly doubled, with MDH reporting on Tuesday 1,224 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 – a new record. That figure includes 249 patients in intensive care and 975 people in non-ICU care.

Statewide, 4,906 additional COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 189,681 and 2,698 deaths in Minnesota.

The state's positivity rate (total cases divided by total tests) as of Tuesday is 14.41%. The World Health Organization recommended in May that a percent positive rate of below 5% for at least two weeks is necessary to safely reopen the economy.

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No spread in schools in Itasca County

Although Itasca County's case rate is among the highest in the state, local health officials note there is "no sign of spread within school settings."

That being said, Grand Rapids Senior High in Grand Rapids is on MDH's list of school buildings with five or more confirmed cases in students or staff who were in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. 

Grand Rapids Senior High is part of Independent Schoool District 318 – the largest district in the county – which is doing a combination of hybrid and in-person learning in most of its schools. The district's website says there are 18 active COVID-19 cases among students and eight among staff, while 197 students and 40 staff are in quarantine as of Nov. 10. 

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