For the first time in two months, new cases of COVID-19 in Crow Wing County were lower than the week before — although they remain at levels not matched since the surge of late autumn 2020.

As of Friday, Oct. 15, a total of 363 new cases occurred among Crow Wing residents since Oct. 8. This is 75 fewer from the high point of 438 during the previous week.

New hospitalizations, however, remain elevated, with 15 more county residents requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 since Oct. 8. A total of 64 Crow Wing residents who tested positive in September and October have required hospitalization. Essentia Health reported Friday its intensive care unit in Brainerd remains above normal capacity with 14 ICU patients, all of whom are hospitalized because of COVID-19. Eleven of the 14 patients are unvaccinated.

Essentia reported earlier this week it’s treating more ICU-level patients than the 10 beds in the ICU unit, and the organization expanded its ICU into the nearby telemetry unit. It is staffed with ICU-trained nurses and continuous monitoring, Essentia stated.

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Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby reported 10-12 of its 25 inpatients this week were hospitalized for COVID-19 and one to three of these patients were vaccinated.

As part of its statement Friday, CRMC responded to claims made during public testimony Monday at a Brainerd School Board meeting by a man who identified himself as a health care worker. During the meeting, the man claimed the majority of COVID-19 patients treated where he worked — later confirmed to be CRMC — were vaccinated.

“It is not accurate that a majority of COVID patients hospitalized at CRMC have been vaccinated for COVID. Most patients who have been hospitalized at CRMC for COVID-19 have not been vaccinated,” according to the statement. “Since the start of 2021, 75 percent of COVID-19 positive patients in the hospital have been unvaccinated. … CRMC feels strongly that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19 and encourages everyone to be vaccinated.”

Tri-County Health Care in Wadena issued a news release Friday acknowledging its high patient volume and reminding ReadyCare patients to enter the building through the north emergency room entrance.

Among the deaths reported this week were two people ages 55-59 — one in Morrison County and one in Wadena County — along with a person age 60-64 in Cass County and a person age 90-94 in Crow Wing County.

Upcoming vaccine clinic

Those who receive their first COVID-19 vaccine during a Crow Wing County Public Health vaccine clinic will receive a $100 gas gift card at the time of vaccination. The incentive program is funded by federal funds obtained by the state of Minnesota and is available to anyone receiving their first shot in Crow Wing, regardless of residence.

The public health clinics include either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, available for individuals 18 years old and older. Upcoming clinics are 12:30-2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, and Oct. 27 at the community services building, 204 Laurel St., Brainerd. Visit https://bit.ly/3BC9iZu to schedule an appointment.