DULUTH – A rural assisted living facility. Iron Range mines. A Virginia youth sports team.
Officials have been saying this for months, but now it's more clear than ever: The spread of COVID-19 in St. Louis County is not just limited to Duluth.
"The coronavirus is here with a vengeance in downtown rural America," said Mike Lindgren, administrator of the Hummingbird assisted living facility in Meadowlands, about halfway between Duluth and Hibbing. "It is looking us right in the eyes. It was just a matter of time before we got it."
Nine of 13 residents and two staff members tested positive for the virus this week, making it the county's first long-term care facility outside of Duluth to report an outbreak.
All 16 of St. Louis County's deaths due to COVID-19 have claimed residents of congregate care settings. However, the majority of recent cases have been occurring among younger residents, especially those in their 20s, and they have been increasingly spread around the state's geographically largest county.
At the end of June, 130 of the county's 161 cases had been reported in Duluth. Among the 93 cases that have been added since, an increasing share are being reported outside the city.
"Early in July, more of our cases have been outside Duluth than in Duluth," county Public Health and Human Services Director Linnea Mirsch said last week after the county set daily records for new confirmed cases.
Three Iron Range mines have reported cases, including two at United Taconite.
"Cleveland-Cliffs is handling each case with the utmost respect to privacy, and also informed potentially affected staff," said company spokeswoman Patricia Persico. "We work with health officials as required, and took swift measures to mitigate any potential spread of the virus."
One case was also identified at U.S. Steel's Minntac, according to the Mesabi Tribune, and another at Minorca. The infected employee at that mine was last at work on July 6, according to owner ArcelorMittal.
"Co-workers sharing this work area are being notified and their plan for further action is being evaluated. Sanitization of possibly affected areas has begun and will continue," said a company spokesperson. "Our employee is quarantined at home, and we wish our colleague a full and speedy recovery."
On Thursday the Virginia Parks and Recreation Department sent an e-mail to parents that a "youth sport participant has tested positive for COVID-19. You and your child may have been exposed due to contact with this individual."
The city will be pausing youth sports for the next two weeks.
"We ask that you take extra precautions as well — wear a mask, wash your hands often, and keep a minimum of six feet from others," Parks and Recreation Director Brian Silber wrote in the e-mail.
Other parts of northeastern Minnesota have seen an uptick in cases. In Lake County, home to Two Harbors, cases doubled from six to 12 in the past week. Itasca County now has 86 cases, a 34% increase in the past two weeks.
Across the border in Wisconsin, Superior and Douglas County, plus neighboring Bayfield County, are considered high-activity by the state's Department of Health Services. Since the start of July, cases there have risen from 45 to 66 as of Thursday.
The Superior City Council is considering a mask mandate at its July 21 meeting that would go into effect July 27 amid the "significant surge in documented positive cases," according to the resolution.
Duluth's mask mandate went into effect after passing unanimously on Monday. Some stores with locations on the Iron Range, such as Walmart, CVS and Target, have instituted mask requirements.