Little COVID growth in Ely

by Tom Coombe
The most recent update confirms a continuing trend of minimal growth in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Ely area.
Among residents of the 55731 zip code, two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the last seven days and six new cases have been added overall since Sept. 24.
St. Louis County updated its COVID dashboard Thursday, providing the new information.
The additional cases brought Ely’s cumulative total up to 40, up from 38 last week, and 36 the previous two weeks.
The number was at 34 on Sept. 24, after a period of more rapid growth that included 25 new cases in roughly a month, many associated with an Ely assisted living facility.
The plateau comes despite an Oct 6 testing event in Ely, put on by St. Louis County, in which 495 people were tested. One person tested positive.
It was not immediately clear if the positive test was attributed to an Ely area resident or someone from a neighboring community.


COVID muddies school budget

by Tom Coombe
A report on COVID-related expenses prompted broader questions about the Ely School District’s financial fortunes this week.
With enrollment down and expenses rising because of pandemic-related requirements, outgoing school board member James Pointer pressed for a more complete picture.
“It seems to me the school is spend, spend, spend, where’s the fiscal responsibility here,” said Pointer.
The discussion was prompted by a breakdown of COVID-related expenses incurred by the district.
A breakdown included about $425,000 in additional expenses, more than half for technology upgrades and purchases, and an ample balance of more than $613,000 in revenue.
But Pointer argued the picture was incomplete, given enrollment declines in the district and an assumption that the district will receive a St. Louis County grant of $76,700 that was included in the available revenue.


Visits resume at senior homes

by Tom Coombe
Indoor visits at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Minnesota are now allowed, after action this week by the Minnesota Department of Health.
New guidelines issued Monday will permit visits at most senior homes, as long as those facilities have gone two weeks without a new COVID-19 case and if the infection rate within the county is no more than 10 percent.
The move clears the way for visits at Ely’s facilities, and both Carefree Living Ely and the Boundary Waters Care Center are moving forward.
Michelle Kosnitch, who directs the three-building Carefree complex in Ely, said visits could begin as soon as Oct. 19.
“There will be certain days, with certain hours for visits and you have to make an appointment,” said Kosnitch.
At the nursing home, visits were set to resume late this week.


Zito promises broadband to Fall Lake area

by Nancy McReady
Fall Lake Township residents, broadband is coming. That is what T.C. Leveille with Zito Media told the supervisors and the 10 citizens attending the township meeting Tuesday night.
“The main roads will be worked on first,” said Leveille, “and then branch out from there. Year-round residents would be first, then seasonal places.”
Hopefully more residents will have broadband connection by spring. Leveille said Zito is looking for a building to store equipment. He said there may be a possibility for free services in exchange for a storage area.
He said Fall Lake has areas that are more inaccessible because of ledge rock and a pole attachment agreement would have to be reached with Lake Country Power and Minnesota Power.


Stabbing leads to attempted murder charge

by Tom Coombe
An attempted murder charge has been filed against a 16-year-old Ely boy who allegedly stabbed his brother more than a dozen times.
Ely police identified the suspect at Michael William Haapala, and St. Louis County prosecutor wants to try him as an adult in connection with the Oct. 8 incident near Miners Lake.
The victim, a 13-year-old male, was taken by helicopter to Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth after suffering multiple stab wounds. He remains in stable condition.
Haapala is being held at Arrowhead Juvenile Center in Duluth.
Court records and a news release issued by the Ely Police Department offered further details about the incident.
According to the reports, a 911 caller reported finding “an individual who appeared to have fallen down a ravine near Miners Lake. The caller reported the patient had a leg injury.’
Police found the victim “curled up in a fetal position in a gully” and cold to the touch.


School might change models

by Nick Wognum
Ely school officials are sending signals that additional distance learning may be coming soon.
For a third consecutive week, the school district will maintain a hybrid model of education for students in grades 6-12 while elementary students will go to school each day.
That was confirmed at a Thursday meeting of the district’s safe learning plan advisory council, but administrators indicated they could soon be recommending changes - including one that would presumably end everyday, in-person learning in the elementary.
Elementary principal Anne Oelke spoke of challenges related to keeping young children six feet apart, as well as those faced by faculty who simultaneously teach those in their classrooms and others who have opted for distance learning.


More bang for the buck

by Tom Coombe
A nearly $20 million facilities project on the Ely school campus continues to take shape, with updated drawings and some welcome news for district taxpayers - including principal and interest costs that will be nearly $2.3 million less than earlier estimates.
An update at Monday’s school board study session revealed new drawings of a structure that will link the Washington and Memorial buildings and include a new gymnasium, cafeteria, commons space, classrooms and office areas.
Meanwhile, the bond sale linked to a $10 million, voter-approved referendum has been completed with “significantly lower interest rates than projected,” according to district financial advisors.
The district will pay 1.3998 percent on the debt, far below intial projection os of 3.24
“It’s great news for the district and great news for the taxpayers,” said Jodie Zesbaugh, senior municipal adivsor for Twin Cities-based Ehlers Public Finance Advisors.


Free COVID-19 testing event offered in Ely next week

The Minnesota Department of Health and St. Louis County Public Health are partnering to offer free COVID-19 tests in Ely. The one-day, drive-thru testing event will be held at the St. Louis County/Ely Public Works Facility, 2210 East Sheridan Street in Ely, on Tuesday, October 6, noon to 6 p.m.

Anyone who wants to be tested is encouraged to come, even if they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19. No insurance or identification is needed.

While the testing is being done in Ely, residents from all surrounding communities, including in Lake County, are welcome and encouraged to be tested.

For convenience, people are encouraged to pre-register. This will give them a specific time slot and minimize time waiting in line. People can register online at There also is a link to register at


Trump gives a shout out to Winton mayor

by Nick Wognum
U.S. President Donald Trump took time from a campaign rally speech in Bemidji on Sept. 11 to recognize Winton Mayor Kathy Brandau.
Also recognized were Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupanich, Auorora Mayor Chris Vreeland and Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe.
Trump cited the mayors who endorsed Trump “in the Iron Range area” and asked Cuffe why he did so.
“Because you’re the best candidate we could ever hope for” Trump said Cuffe replied. “That’s cool man, thank you,” said Trump.
“Andrea Zupancich, where’s Andrea?” Trump said, struggling a bit with the pronunciation. “Thank you very much, that’s really nice.”
Trump also thanked Vreeland and then turned to the mayor of Winton.
“Kathy Brandau. Kathy Brandau, thank you Kathy. I hope you’re having a good time tonight, we’re not going to let you down, you know that,” said Trump.
Brandau said the whole event was something she won’t forget.


Board hopefuls share opinions

by Nick Wognum
Four candidates for three Ely School Board positions found plenty of common ground Tuesday night.
A candidates’ forum, held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, featured no fireworks and a few technical glitches, with sketchy rural internet service often disrupting responses delivered by candidate Darren Visser.
One of three first-time candidates, Visser joined fellow political newcomers Rachel Brophy and Hollee Coombe and incumbent Tom Omerza at the event sponsored by Ely’s Rotary Club and the local branch of the American Association of University Women.
The candidates took turns answering questions in the 90-minute event, and all four voices consistent support for district teaching staff and providing further opportunities for students.


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