COVID spike eases, numbers in a nosedive

by Tom Coombe
After a November spike, reported cases of COVID-19 continue to decline locally, regionally and statewide.
With only five residents of the 55731 zip code testing positive for the virus in a two-week period that ended Dec. 24, the case rate in Ely is low enough to allow for in-person learning for all grade levels, according to state recommendations and a restart blueprint adopted by the Ely School Board.
In St. Louis County, cases have fallen by two-thirds since peaking in late-November while active cases in Minnesota have plummeted by 76 percent since a high-water mark of Nov. 20.
The developments come in the wake of restrictions authorized by Gov. Tim Walz, including a “pause” that has closed restaurants, bars and indoor entertainment venues for several weeks.
A dramatic increase in local cases prompted the Ely School District to move to distance learning in late-November, but the district has since announced that full in-person learning will resume in the elementary school on Jan. 12, with middle and high school students resuming a hybrid model that includes two days at school each week.
Vaccinations have also begun across the nation, with health care workers and nursing home residents among the first to be injected.
The downward trends in Minnesota come despite fears, voiced by Gov. Tim Walz and public health officials, that Thanksgiving gatherings could create an additional uptick.
A Thanksgiving surge did not occur, although officials have also voiced fears that Christmas and holiday season travel and gatherings may drive up the numbers.
While Walz has eased some restrictions, including an end to a pause on youth sporting events, restaurants and bars remain closed to indoor service and gathering limits remain in place.
Walz continues to face pressure from Republicans and hospitality industry leaders to allow for further reopenings, but as of deadline he has not indicated if he’ll allow executive orders to expire on Jan. 10.
Across the board, data has shown a significant ease in COVID’s grip on Minnesota.
In Ely, numbers have slowed to mid-fall levels, with only three new cases from Dec. 11-17 and two positive tests recorded from Dec. 18-24.
That brings the cumulative total of cases in Ely to 151, since the onset of the pandemic in March.
Nearly half of that total came during a three-week spike from Nov. 13-Dec. 3, when 73 Ely area residents were stricken with the virus, including 33 from Nov. 13-19.
Ely’s zip code case rate, which tracks active cases in a two-week timeline and is the key barometer in determining school attendance models, skyrocketed to 91.80 on Nov. 27 but fell to 8.05 by Dec. 24.
According to Minnesota Department of Health recommendations, case rates under 10 are recommended to allow for in-person learning for all students.
St. Louis County’s COVID numbers are also in steep decline.
Only 34 cases were recorded Tuesday, and as of Dec. 22 the seven-day average for new cases per day was 70.6, down from a Nov. 22 high of 232 cases per day.
Test positivity rates have nosedived as well, going from a high of 12.5 percent in mid-November to 5.4 percent Dec. 24, just barely above the threshold sought by public health specialists in order to contain the virus.
The statewide numbers tell a similar tale.
Although December is shaping up to be Minnesota’s deadliest month, with over 1,500 people dying since Dec. 1, hospitalizations have slowed and the number of active cases has returned to pre-peak levels.
Less than 1,000 new cases were recorded in Minnesota Tuesday, and the number of active cases fell from a Nov. 20 peak of 51,118 to 12,408 Tuesday - a decrease of nearly 76 percent.
The number of active cases in Minnesota has now dipped back to late-October levels, and test positivity rates have sunk from double-digits for much of November to as little as three-to-four percent on some days in the last week.