COVID cases climbing in Ely

by Tom Coombe
After steering clear for several months, COVID-19 is making its presence felt in the Ely area with a sizable jump in new cases, including 12 in the last two weeks.
The latest statistics re- leased by the Minnesota Department of Health and St. Louis County show that 21 residents of the 55731 zip code have tested positive for the coronavirus since March.
But that number was just nine as of Aug. 27, and classified at “five or less” the week before.
Those numbers have since been on the rise, in
part because of cases linked to the Carefree Living as- sisted living facility near the hospital.
“We have an outbreak at Carefree,” Ely physician Joe Bianco said Tuesday.
But Bianco added that the growth in cases “is not just CareFree. There are other cases with other stories behind them.”
Merle Sampson, who owns the CareFree facil- ity, said last week that a staff member and two resi- dents had tested positive for COVID-19.
Ely has added a dozen cases since, and Sampson re- leased a statement Wednes- day but did not indicate how many additional cases were linked to the facility.
“At this time, we have continued cases for both staff and residents,” said Sampson. “The Carefree families and associated phy- sicians have communication from our staff weekly if not daily. Our Carefree staff are amazing and resilient. They have cared for these residents prior to COVID and continue caring for them with the same loving attitude during COVID.”
It’s not clear if any COVID cases related to
Ely have required hospital- ization.
The county’s COVID Dashboard, updated Thurs- day, showed that county wide there were 194 active cases with just three requir- ing hospitalization.
Bianco urged continued vigilance in the Ely area as COVID numbers grow.
“The bottom line is for people to continue to wear their marks, continue social distancing, and not have big gatherings together,” said Bianco. “Those are the real key parts of this.”
Health officials say most COVID cases are mild, al- though some victims of the highly contagious virus require hospitalization and
the possibility of death rises with age or those with other underlying conditions.
The most common symp- toms include a fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahren- heit, new onset or worsening cough, difficulty breathing and a new loss of taste or smell.
Bianco noted that test- ing is available at Essentia Health’s Ely clinic.
“We are a testing site,” he said. “People can come up and we can test them.”
But Bianco warned that those being tested must also quarantine as they wait for the results, which usually take three-to-four days.
“If they have reason enough to be tested, they
have to put themselves in quarantine,” said Bianco. “They need to be away from other people. They can’t be tested and carry on with their errands.”
Ely physician Jim Mon- tana also advised following safety protocols while voic- ing some concern about what may be head.
“Unfortunately, I think the fact that people will be indoors as the days get colder is going to increase the chance of this virus spreading,” said Montana.
With the cold and flu season approaching, Bianco said it may be more import- ant than ever for people to get their flu shots this year.
“I want to really emphasize that folks come in and get their flu shots,” said Bianco. “We’re hoping to have a better influenza sea- son and that might make a difference.”
Since March, nearly 82,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID, with 1,869 deaths as of Wednesday.
About three-fourths of the deaths attributed to residents of congregate care settings. Deaths have slowed considerably over the last several weeks while hos- pitalizations and intensive care cases are down by more than half since peaking in mid-May.
Bianco said, “I think part of the reason we’re not seeing severity as much is we are doing better with those people who are at highest risk.”
At Carefree, weekly testing continues for staff and residents, according to Sampson.
“The testing will contin- ue until we have achieved two weeks of negative tests results in each respective building,” he said. “One building may graduate from COVID testing before an- other.
Outdoor visits at Care- free will be available once a building has two weeks of negative tests