Compiled by Argus Staff

A bustling county shushed, but not silenced. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has swept over the world, but Houston County has found different ways to stay in motion.

Though schools have temporarily closed, students are still getting fed and learning. Though restaurants no longer host dine-in customers, take-out orders are available. 

As of press time on Monday, March 23, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported in Houston County, according to public health officials. Minnesota had 169 confirmed cases Monday morning. 

For those wondering if people could have symptoms of the virus but not yet been tested or confirmed, the Minnesota Department of Health says people with symptoms of a respiratory disease should stay home for at least seven days and for three days with no fever and improvement of respiratory symptoms, whichever is longer.

Patients with confirmed COVID-19 have had mild to severe symptoms, the Center for Diseases and Control (CDC) said. That list includes fever, cough, shortness of breath while other patients have had muscle aches, headache, sore throat or diarrhea.

“There may be a lot more cases out there than is realized, because a lot of people could be carrying it and not showing the symptoms or not getting severely sick with it,” Public Health Educator Audrey Staggemeyer told the Argus two weeks ago. It still rings true this week, she said. 

“The challenging part is, it’s still prime influenza season, so there’s still a lot of cases of influenza going around, and they have very similar symptoms. So it’s probably hard to know unless people are actually tested - is it the seasonal flu, or could it be COVID-19?”

 Public Health officials also say most cases of COVID-19 are mild and symptoms can often be managed at home, but if symtoms get worse, people should call their health care provider before going to in-person care in order to avoid exposing others.

As for the confirmed cases across the border in La Crosse, Allamakee and Winneshiek counties, Staggemeyer said the risk is similar to any contagious illness.

 “We live in a very mobile society,” she said. “We all need to do our part in slowing the spread of COVID-19.  This means following standard prevention practices, social distancing and staying home when sick with any illness.”

The MDH hotline is available for guidance: 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903

Available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Grocery stores

Grocery stores have adjusted to the pandemic, with Red’s IGA in Spring Grove staying open but encouraging customers to drop off orders via drive-thru window, email or Facebook, Patrick Longmire said.

Employees will fill the orders, let the customer know when it’s ready and bring it out to the customer, which limits face to face contact with anyone who doesn’t want to be exposed to the elements of the current situation, he said. 

So far, the store has received an average of more than 10 orders a day.

“We’re keeping our store open to allow the community to get essentials (or what ever we might have left) to keep their lives moving forward, too,” he said. Hand sanitizer is available on the way into the store, at the checkouts and on the way out. 

Though diarrhea was not one of the main symptoms listed of COVID-19, Americans all over quickly stocked up, leading to empty shelves. On Monday, March 16, not a single roll of toilet paper was to be found on Quillin’s or Red’s IGA shelves. Cleaning products were also sparse. 

“Within two days of the toilet paper craze starting, our shelveswere empty,” Longmire added. “We aren’t able to get enough product to fill our shelves from our warehouse  as the manufacturing is completely stressed.”

Because of that, grocery stores have limited certain items like toilet paper, sanitizer and paper towels to one per customer. Longmire added the store isn’t even able to fill the shelves with the two trucks that deliver in a week as the warehouse distributes all over the Midwest.

Red’s has also seen an influx of customers lately too that are similar to Christmas levels, but less jolly, he added. But customers are not to worry.

“Our staff’s morale is high and we are just as friendly and helpful as always, if not more,” Longmire concluded. 

City, County response

On Thursday, March 19, Houston County Board of Commissioners Chair Eric Johnson authorized a Peacetime Emergency Declaration.

Currently, county offices are still open for business but by “appointment only,” the declaration said. The offices were closed to walk-in visitors by Friday, March 20.

The county asked residents to “conduct as much business as possible via telephone, email, fax or mail and limit face-to-face visits to essential needs.” They also recommended following Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and CDC guidance.

Last week, the City of Caledonia reported that city hall, public library, city auditorium and the police department would be closed to the public starting Wednesday, March 18. 

“This closure is expected to last at least two weeks but may change based on the status of coronavirus in our area,” they said in a statement. 

City staff is still available by contacting 507-725-3450 and by email. Non-emergency assistance from the police department is available at 507-725-3889.

“Utility bill payments can be placed in the payment box outside City Hall. Utility bills can also be paid online through Payment Service Network, which can be accessed through the Caledonia City web page. Utility bill payments can also be made by calling City Hall at (507) 725-3450. If a utility bill is paid by calling City Hall, the City will waive any surcharges for using a debit card or credit card. This waiver does not apply to payments made through Payment Systems Network.”

“The decision to close City Hall, the Library, and the Ambulance Department/Police Department building to the public starting tomorrow was made in consultation with Mayor Schroeder, Vice Mayor/Auxiliary Mayor Fisch, and Library Director Stephanie Eggert,” city clerk-administrator Adam Swann reported. “We also consulted with other cities in Houston County and Minnesota. All city employees are still expected to work their normal schedules during this time—unless of course they are sick. The City will continue to provide important public services like police, ambulance, fire, utilities, and street maintenance.

 “This isn’t a decision we make lightly, but we value the safety and well-being of all City employees and residents. 

“Federal and state officials as well as public health experts have stressed the importance of social distancing to slow and hopefully stop the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus (COVID-19). We will all have to work together to reduce the public health risk.  

 Stay tuned to the Argus for the latest information.

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