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Officials urge caution as COVID-19 cases surge in Cloquet, Carlton County

The average number of positive cases in Carlton County is about 40 per day, up from 4.7 per day in early October.

Cloquet City Hall.jpg
Cloquet City Hall (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)

Rapidly increasing rates of COVID-19 cases in Cloquet and Carlton County pushed representatives from the city of Cloquet, Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to hold a joint press conference to update the public on the situation and urge health safety practices.

According to Cloquet Mayor Roger Maki, the Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm notified the county and city the COVID-19 positivity rate is above 5%.

"That's a concerning level of spread in our community," Maki said. "We're encouraging compliance with masking requirements and gathering restrictions."

Maki also shared that an election judge working at the Ward 1 voting location in Journey Christian Church later tested positive for COVID-19 . The city has contacted election workers from the site and the facility. The election worker didn't show signs or symptoms until days after the election, is reported to have worn a mask and took all other prescribed precautions, according to Maki. He encouraged anyone who is having symptoms to contact their medical provider.

Dr. Charley Kendall of the Cloquet Community Memorial Hospital addressed the public via a conference call due to being in quarantine from an exposure to COVID-19. He shared a grim view of how the sudden surge of cases is concerning to medical professionals.


"We've reached a critical point pretty quickly," Kendall said. "And this is just the beginning. I was fairly optimistic this spring with how things went. Just in the last week, I've become much less optimistic. I'm concerned we may be overwhelmed at some point."

The hospital has been working with other hospitals in the region to shuffle patients around to make room for intensive care patients. For example, Cloquet Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer said CMH has taken in some COVID-19 patients from Duluth to free up space for more serious patients that might need services only available in Duluth .

But it's not just COVID-19 patients who are filling up the hospital's beds. Breuer said they're seeing more patients sick from not having health care needs met in the spring and summer.

"We did well at shooing people away this spring so we could plan, but people didn't come back until they were brought back by an ambulance," Breuer said. "I strongly recommend that people have their basic health care needs taken care of so we can keep the more typical illnesses at bay and help fight against the COVID surge."

Addressing the current surge, Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, said the current average case rate is around 40 cases per day.

"A month ago, from Oct. 7-13, we were averaging around 4.7 cases per day, so things are ramping up dramatically," Lee said. "This makes it difficult to keep up with investigations and contact tracing."

Lee asked people to stay home if they feel sick, make lists of people you've had contact with and schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test. Furthermore, anyone who has had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they get tested for the virus, Lee said.

Fond Du Lac Tribal Chairman Kevin Dupuis said the "shockwave of COVID-19 is starting to hit the area."


"It's like an earthquake — there's an epicenter and it takes a while for the aftershocks to ripple out, but we're feeling them now," Dupuis said. "We're seeing about 40 cases in our community, which might not sound like a lot, but for a small community, it's pretty scary."

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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