Itasca County has seen three additional laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 this week, bringing the county’s total number of infected residents to 63 as of 4 p.m. on June 24, according to Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Health department manager. These additional cases are reflected on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website. As previously reported, 12 area residents, ranging in age from 57 to 94, have passed away from COVID-related causes.

As Itasca County residents and businesses look toward recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, community stakeholders are taking stock of assets and opportunities. One set of insights come from a county analysis conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). In partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, UWPHI has created a way to measure and think about health factors—those things we can modify to improve the length and quality of life for residents. “They are predictors of how healthy our communities can be in the future,” according to their County Health Ranking and Roadmaps program.

Social and economic factors, such as income, education, employment, community safety, and social supports are the largest contributors (40%) to how well and how long we live, according to the program. “These factors affect our ability to make healthy choices, afford medical care and housing, manage stress, and more.”

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on Itasca area social and economic conditions, particularly impacting those working and employing others in the hospitality and mining industries. The County Health Ranking report for Itasca County, produced prior to COVID, provides a window into strengths (such as clinical care) and stresses (such as social and economic factors) as Itasca area stakeholders take action toward recovery. The full report can be found online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

The health care sector, especially in rural places across the country, has taken a significant economic blow recently.

“This pandemic has put health care organizations, not only in our region, but across the world, in a tough financial position,” explained Todd Christensen, Director of Finance, Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital. “With volumes significantly down in all areas across our organization for nearly three months, it will take some time for us to rebound from that.

“Not only has COVID-19 affected our financial stability at health care organizations, but it has affected our employees’ financial wellbeing as well. At Grand Itasca, we had to furlough a significant percentage of our employees. Most of them have now returned to work and we are confident that we will be able to bring the rest of them back soon, but we understand the stress and impact that not working can cause. Not knowing if we will see a surge in the fall again has us all behaving rather cautiously.”

Itasca County’s Message Center is available for those with COVID-related issues and needs at 218-327-6784. Response calls will be made between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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