Since Monday, July 20, Itasca County has seen seven additional laboratory-confirmed cases among residents, raising the total in the county to 113.  Although the county was experiencing relatively few new cases in mid-June, more than 50 new cases among residents have surfaced since the beginning of July.

 Itasca County medical facilities have conducted 5,409 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.  People with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are counted in the county in which they reside.  While several visitors to Itasca County also tested positive while here, their cases are counted in their home communities.  Itasca County Public Health, in collaboration with Minnesota Department of Health staff, conducts local case investigations.  Any identified close personal contacts (someone within 6 feet for over 15 minutes during a positive person’s infectious period) will also receive a call to provide education to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 “Thanks to earlier detection and a strong response by our local caregiving community, we remain at no additional deaths beyond our initial 12, despite the rise in cases,” said Kelly Chandler, department manager for Itasca County Public Health.  “Still, we have some very sick friends and neighbors because of COVID.  Without a vaccine, our weapon against this virus is vigilance.  It will take every resident and visitor doing their part to get our economy, schools and our Itasca quality of life back on track.”

 On Thursday, Governor Walz announced a statewide order mandating mask-wearing in all public indoor spaces and indoor businesses, unless one is alone, effective July 25. Additionally, workers are required to wear a face covering when working outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a face covering can include a paper or disposable mask, cloth mask, neck gaiter, scarf, bandanna, or a religious face covering. A face covering must cover the mouth and nose completely. The covering should not be overly tight or restrictive and should feel comfortable to wear.

Details of the state order may be found online at state websites or by calling the Minnesota Helpline at 1-800-657-3504 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For Itasca residents and visitors seeking masks, the following may be options:

 Disposable paper masks may be received or purchased at retailers throughout the community.  For example, SuperOne patrons may purchase masks for one dollar at store entrances.  Walmart currently provides a disposable mask to customers who are without one.   

 Grand Itasca Foundation, with support from Blandin Foundation and Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, has purchased “Itasca Strong” cloth masks, which are available at no cost to businesses throughout the county for their patrons.  Also available to businesses is signage that encourages and thanks patrons for wearing masks.

 Organizations that have made Itasca Strong masks available for patrons include: Bigfork City Hall, Timber Rose, Kocians, Bigfork Hardware, Marcell Frontier Sports, Effie Café, BP Gas Effie, BP Gas Nashwauk, Nashwauk Market, K&M Corner Store in Nashwauk, Judy Garland Museum, City of Warba, Itasca County Public Health, Itasca Community College, The Emeralds, Civil Air Patrol, Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Bigfork Valley, Sara-Beth Swanson Law Office, Minuteman Press, Rajala Companies and the MN Timber & Millwork Showroom, Ross Resources, Computer Enterprises, Northland Machine, Inc., Grand Rapids Gun Club, ICTV, Keewatin Elementary School, Super One Foods South, Super One Foods North, Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, Super One Liquor, Reif Center, Second Harvest Food Bank, Itascan Motel, ElderCircle, Northland Recovery Women's Center, Grand Village, MacRostie Art Center, Zion Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids Marine, United Way of 1,000 Lakes, Wille Transport, Nuch's In the Corner.

 Itasca Strong masks also are available to the general public at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center, which is open Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at One Northwest Third Street in Grand Rapids.  The Chamber also has been designated to receive 22,000 disposable masks from the State of Minnesota in the next few weeks to distribute throughout the county.  More information will be available on these masks next week, reports Bud Stone, president of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

 Ideas for sewing and assembling cloth masks—for adults and children—are widely available online.  Youth-sized cloth masks are in particular need by agencies throughout the community. 

 ElderCircle volunteers have sewn cloth masks, available in limited quantities at no cost to individuals. To obtain masks (limit of two per person), leave a phone message at 218-999-9233, extension 279, to arrange non-contact pickup at their offices at Itasca County Family YMCA (400 River Road, Grand Rapids).  Both elastic and tie-style masks are available.  Monetary donations to create more masks are appreciated and may be mailed to ElderCircle, 400 River Road, Suite 1, Grand Rapids, MN 55744.  Donations of masks, fabric or elastic may be dropped off in a yellow and black bin cabled to a metal fence outside of the ElderCircle office.  Donors are asked to include their name and contact information.

 Itasca County’s COVID-19 information line has reactivated more robustly. The line will be answered live from 8-4:30, Monday – Friday and 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for the next two weeks to address questions related to COVID-19, executive orders, etc. The number is 218-327-6784.



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