Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler once again provided an update on COVID-19 in Itasca County for the Itasca County Board of Commissioners at a regular session meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10. With cases still rising in the community, Chandler emphasized that COVID-19 is still very much an issue in the area.

As of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Chandler reported there were a total of 1,141 cases of COVID-19 in Itasca County. Just in the past 14-days prior, 362 new cases were identified. There have been 19 deaths from COVID-19 in Itasca County, 10 people are currently hospitalized and five are in intensive care.

“That’s a higher number that we’ve had in a really long time for Itasca County residents needing that level of care due to COVID-19,” said Chandler.

Chandler explained many of the cases were spread at worksites, bars, birthdays, faith-based services and gatherings, Halloween, and gatherings within homes. As of Nov. 5, there have been 23,593 tests conducted in Itasca County.

“The spread is wide and it is in every corner of Itasca and that is very true. Every corner of Itasca has been affected,” Chandler stated. “So assume at this point if you’re at any type of setting with others, and it doesn’t matter if it’s your close family and friends or if it’s people you don’t know, the spread is broad and someone may have COVID or have been exposed.”

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Hospitals in the region and throughout Minnesota are reaching critical capacity levels, according to Chandler.

“We are keeping COVID cases locally now, and have been for a couple of weeks due to deferment at other health care facilities,” said Chandler.

She added, “This increase in COVID is not due to increased testing. They are finding more people that have it.”

Itasca County Public Health has had to reprioritize its work as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The county will not be doing contract tracing anymore due to an overwhelming number of cases, which means there are too many close contacts to try and reach out to. Those who test positive are still encouraged to reach out to their close contacts and are able to give out the Public Health phone number if anyone has further questions.

Commissioner Burl Ives asked Chandler if other areas of the state are also moving away from contract tracing. Chandler stated counties can still opt in or out of contact investigation, and there is a new regional model that partners with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

“The MDH haven’t been prioritizing contact tracing for a while now because of the overwhelming number,” said Chandlers. She continued, “That has been going on elsewhere in the state. We’ve held on longer probably than a lot.”

County staff has also been prioritizing certain areas as things get more complex regarding COVID-19. Specialized areas include worksites, schools and childcare, faith-based, as well as planning for mass vaccinations. Itasca County must submit a plan for vaccine distribution for Phase 1A to MDH in the next three weeks. This phase includes distribution to health care workers, long-term care residents, and others within the critical infrastructure.

Chandler concluded by stating, “If you want schools to stay open, businesses to remain open, sports to continue, our elders and vulnerable persons to be protected, do your part, stay six-feet apart, keep your social circle small and wear your mask.”

Itasca County Health and Human Services Director Eric Villenveuve provided an update on the department in regards to COVID-19.

“We’re not immune to that [COVID-19],” said Villenveuve. “We have several units now who have members that have tested positive.”

Villenveuve added that there has been no spread of COVID-19 among employees. The spread has come from other places outside of the worksite.

In other business, commissioners approved the following agenda items:

•Commissioner warrants in the amount of $661,333.38.

• Request to fill one (1) vacant Social Worker position in the Family & Child Services Unit within Itasca County Health & Human Services.

• The meeting’s consent agenda was approved. The consent agenda included the following items:

• Approve a grant request from the Grand Rapids Archers in the amount of $1,000 from the Tourism and Economic Development fund.

• Approve a license to sell tobacco, as requested by CJ Tabke Corporation DBA Pokegama Plaza Liquors located at 1007 S. Pokegama Avenue, Grand Rapids, MN.

• Authorize the IMCare Director and County Board Chair to sign a Provider Participation Agreement with Northwoods Dentistry PLLC retroactively to 10/19/2020, the effective date that the practice changed hands.

• Authorize a change in allocation of one (1) vacant Grade-11 Network Telecommunications Specialist position to a Grade-12 Senior Network and Security Engineer position.

• Approve final payment for Contract 69301, a grading, aggregate base & bituminous surfacing project on CSAH 93 (CR 227), and authorize the County Board Chairperson and Clerk to the County Board to sign the necessary documents.

•Adopt the Resolution Re: Declaration of a State of Emergency due to damage resulting from the Aug. 14, 2020 Severe Storms/Flooding in Itasca County and approve necessary signatures to the request for a Preliminary Damage Assessment from the state.

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