A surging number of COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County prompted Duluth to close once again its facilities to the public.

Duluth announced Thursday that starting next week, only essential staff will be allowed in city buildings. The restrictions are similar to those in place at the beginning of the pandemic; the city started allowing the public to enter facilities by appointment in June.

The Duluth Police Department has also been hit with COVID-19, but it won't disclose how many employees are impacted. Police spokesperson Ingrid Hornibrook said though multiple officers have tested positive for the virus or been forced to quarantine due to contact tracing, the pandemic "has not had an impact on normal daily staffing levels" of late.

Early on in the pandemic, the police created a COVID-19 schedule with built-in quarantine periods. "As we monitor the current situation, we are prepared to return to this emergency schedule," Hornibrook said in an e-mail sent to area media. "This careful plan ensures the citizens of Duluth can expect a professional and dedicated response necessary to keep our community safe."

One police sergeant is conducting contact tracing and following virus trends, she added.

St. Louis County has reported 577 new cases in the past week, accounting for 15% of its 3,835 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

"We will be evaluating the situation as it evolves and will update the community as we are able," the city said in a statement.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478