Ahead of first case,

hospitals conducting E-visits, schools are feeding hundreds

Following actions taken on national and statewide levels, the Itasca County Commissioners approved the declaration of a local emergency in response to Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019, otherwise known as COVID-19 during a regular meeting of the county board Tuesday afternoon.

“It certainly isn’t to bring about any panic in the county,” said County Administrator Brett Skyles as Itasca County has yet to confirm its first positive case.

On March 13, the COVID-19 outbreak was classified as a National Emergency by President Donald Trump. On the same date, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a Peacetime State of Emergency. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease and can be spread from person to person according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

According to a resolution from the board of commissioners, “preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19 and related fatalities among the Itasca County population and its visitors requires swift action by the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, its staff, and Itasca County public officials.”

The resolution directs the county administrator to coordinate aid from the local, state and federal government. The county administrator is also delegated the authority to use up to $50,000 for any necessary materials, supplies, equipment for the Itasca County COVID-19 response.

“All Itasca County ordinances, rules, and policies that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to COVID-19 are suspended for the duration of the Local Emergency, in the sole discretion of the Itasca County Administrator or designee, but any such suspension by the County Administrator or designee shall be timely reported to the Chair of the County Board,” states the resolution.

Itasca County’s Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler and Emergency Management Coordinator Marlyn Halvorson provided an update on COVID-19 in Itasca County during Tuesday’s meeting. Currently, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Itasca County. Cass County has one reported case that was like due to community spread, according to Chandler. St. Louis County has reported two cases.

With no antibodies against the virus developed in humans and no vaccine available, Chandler reported their focus is community mitigation efforts to manage the impact and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Halvorson stated that the efforts taken by Itasca County are the same as the other 11 counties nearby.

Local organizations are taking their own steps to make their services as accessible as possible during this time. Several Itasca County stakeholders met Monday for a briefing. Hospitals such as Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital and Bigfork Valley report that they are both using E-visits as options for patients. Mental health organizations such as Northland and NorthHomes are also using tele-health services.

Long-term care facilities are continuing to restrict visitors while screening staff and residents in the building. Addressing the issue of isolation, Majestic Pines and Grand Village both said they would welcome greeting cards made by community members. Hospitals and long-term care facilities are both in need of N95 masks, hand sanitizer and hospital gowns.

School districts are working to provide childcare for emergency workers and food services for students in need. More than 1,400 meals were served last Wednesday-Friday in ISD 317 and 319. Nashwauk-Keetwatin served a total of 600 meals last Wednesday-Friday. ISD 316 reported they are serving 300-400 meals each day. Additionally, teachers are busy preparing for distance learning.

The majority of public city buildings are now closed or have limited access to the public. Local organizations such as the Blandin Foundation, the Community Foundation and United Way are working to put together a coordinated effort to provide resources to the community.

Itasca County has compiled links and resources regarding COVID-19 at http://www.co.itasca.mn.us/798/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Information.

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