According to current local data, Itasca County is at an uncontrolled level of COVID-19 spread, due largely to formal and informal gatherings that were unsafe. As of Oct. 4, the county’s 14-day rate of COVID is 38.6 positive cases per 10,000 residents. As of Thursday morning, Oct. 8, total positive cases among Itasca County residents stand at 506, double the Sept. 12 number, 66 percent higher than on Sept. 21, and 45 more diagnosed since Monday, Oct. 5.

Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health department manager said the cases are contributed to Itasca County adults gathering together in groups without staying six feet apart and without masking. Public health has found the clusters are occurring at worksites, bars and restaurants and events such as weddings. So far, they have not seen cases come through related to hunting activities however there are plans for special monitoring during deer hunting season.

Spikes in Itasca County have occurred particularly after holidays and long weekends.

Itasca County Public Health is calling on all adults to limit their gathering in groups and if choosing to gather, wearing masks and staying six feet apart especially as MEA weekend, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years is upon us.

This week Independent School District (ISD) 318 announced plans to add elementary students to middle school and high school hybrid learning models with part-time online and in-person classes starting Oct. 20. The district attributed the decision to shift this model to “adult behavior” regarding gatherings and congregations that have fueled spread and large case numbers. The district is using the Governor’s Health Matrix and analysis of case clusters in the area to determine the safety of in-person learning.

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The schools are working with the Minnesota Department of Health to consider the transmission levels directly in schools, along with the county’s COVID-19 case rate, when making decisions about in-person, hybrid and distance learning.

“If we want our schools to have any chance of staying open, if we want our neighbors to be able to work, we must immediately take a stand,” said Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health department manager. “Do not host or attend gatherings where masks are not worn and a distance of at least six feet cannot be maintained. Wear your mask, stay away from crowds and keep your distance.

“If our schools are forced to move to full-time distance learning again because of this uncontrolled spread, that means they also must shut down things like sports. Whatever your motivation is—sports, schools, businesses, your elderly parent or grandparent, your friend with cancer, your job—please do your part,” added Chandler. “If you do nothing else, wear a mask when around other people and stand six feet from anyone who does not live in the same home as you. These small steps can make a world of difference and get our kids back in school.”

On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported that the state has seen 109,312 total positive cases. Of those, 11,284 were health care workers. Deaths associated with COVID in Minnesota as of Oct. 9 totaled 2,121 as of Oct. 9 with 1,513 of those deaths among cases that resided in long-term care or associated living facilities. MDH reports that the likely exposure among confirmed cases is most associated with community spread (unknown), followed by community spread (known), then unknown and congregate living.

Itasca County has created a local dashboard with current local data. It can be found at: https://www.co.itasca.mn.us/798/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Information

Itasca residents with questions or concerns may leave them at the Itasca County COVID message line, with calls returned 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday. The Itasca COVID line number is 218-327-6784.

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