COVID data out by zip code

State numbers show “five or less” cases among local residents

by Tom Coombe
Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic, the impact to Ely area residents remains minimal, according to statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Statistics broken down by zip code show that five or fewer residents from the 55731 zip code have tested positive for COVID-19.
But last month, health officials indicated “some growth” in cases in the area, which would presumably be linked to visitors or others who do not reside here full-time.
Those cases, however, have not resulted in any local spike, according to a local physician.
“We were lucky in that individuals from out of town with COVID did not result in any significant community spread,” said James Montana, a physician with Essential Health.
“I believe that in Ely interactions with tourists generally occur outdoors which helped decrease the likelihood of spread. In addition, indoor business owners and customers were adhering to masking guidelines. These factors kept the number of cases here this summer very low.”
Until last week, state officials only separated COVID cases by county, and prompted questions by elected officials and others about the spread of the virus in Ely.
The numbers released Aug. 13 are cumulative, and only show that five or fewer Ely area residents have had positive tests.
Several neighboring communities, including Babbitt and Embarrass, were also in the five or fewer category.
While updated zip code data was not available prior to Thursday’s deadline, county data showed that there have been 696 total cases in St. Louis County, with the bulk of those in Duluth.
There have been 21 deaths attributed to COVID in the county, while neighboring Lake County has reported 25 cases and no deaths.
In the state of Minnesota, there were 66,618 cases and 1,738 deaths, with about three-fourths of the deaths attributed to residents of congregate care settings. Deaths have slowed considerably over the last several weeks while hospitalizations and intensive care cases are down roughly 50 and 40 percent, respectively, since peaking in May.
Health officials say most COVID cases are mild, although some victims require hospitalization and the possibility of death rises with age or those with other underlying conditions.
Montana said changing weather conditions lead to additional risk in the Ely area.
“As we move into the cold season people will be spending more time indoors,” said Montana. “If the virus ends up in the community, the fact that we interact with each other indoors will increase the likelihood of increasing community spread.”
The number of cases in the Ely area and St. Louis County allow for schools to reopen, and the Ely district as well as neighboring St. Louis County 2142 plan for in-person instruction to resume next month.
Vermilion Community College will also reopen this week, and the area has experienced a steady stream of visitor traffic throughout the summer.
Last month, Ely- Bloomenson Community Hospital reported no increase in cases and Montana added “I would hate to see a high incidence of COVID come to Ely. I think if we continue to adhere to current guidelines we can continue to minimize the risk for a local serious outbreak. If an outbreak occurs, adjustments will have to take place to mitigate the outbreak.”
Health officials continue to emphasize caution and taking safety precautions ranging from social distancing and sanitation efforts, to the use of face coverings indoors.
“The only advice I have for local residents is to continue to respect the potential for a local outbreak and follow current social distancing practices, quarantining when diagnosed or potentially ill from COVID, masks in public buildings and frequent hand sanitizing,” said Montana.