As the state was moving toward a new era of pandemic restrictions, the city of Bloomington had already taken steps to respond to the recent spike in coronavirus cases.

The Bloomington City Council unanimously extended Mayor Tim Busse’s latest emergency declaration during a Nov. 16 meeting. Busse declared the local emergency Nov. 13; it was limited to three days without a Council extension.

The Council approved a local emergency at the start of the pandemic in March, and extended it through June, when it was determined that the emergency authority it provides was no longer necessary.

The declaration enacts the city’s emergency management plan, allowing the city to move expeditiously, as necessary, if there is a need for an acquisition that normally requires a competitive bid process. It also allows the city manager flexibility regarding human resources policies and decision-making related to facilities, such as their hours of operation, according to City Manager Jamie Verbrugge.

As was the case during the first declaration, Verbrugge noted he will report to the Council any actions taken under the auspices of the declaration, whether by himself or Fire Chief Ulie Seal, who serves as the city’s emergency manager.

The spike in COVID-19 cases locally and statewide prompted the new declaration. There is an uncontrolled spread in almost every state in the country, according to Nick Kelley, Bloomington’s assistant public health administrator.

The city’s seven-day average case count per 100,000 people was in the teens back in June, when the city’s first emergency declaration lapsed. As of Nov. 7, the most recent data available for the city, the average case count per 100,000 people was 81, Kelley said. “And it is rapidly accelerating.”

The highest average for the city prior to the recent spike had been 20, he noted.

“The growth is accelerating, and it’s going to require some pretty substantial changes in how we behave as a state, as a community, to get this thing under control,” Kelley said.

The recent spike is challenging and straining to the health care system. Minnesota is on track to reach 300,000 cases before Thanksgiving, ahead of previous projections that showed the state reaching that threshold in early December, Kelley explained.

As for the local cases, Bloomington’s case count has increased for every age group. According to the state, youth athletics is among the outbreak drivers, and data for Bloomington, Edina and Richfield showed that 21 percent of school age children 5-18 had an exposure associated with sports, despite the efforts and protocols to protect and safeguard participants, according to Kelley.

The case count for residents identified as black, Indigenous or people of color continues to be disproportionate, he noted.

There is no indication who will have a negative outcome upon contracting the virus, but the older you are, the more likely the outcome is going to be negative, Kelley added.

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities are the result of community transmissions impacting the staff that serves those communities. The higher the spread, the more challenging it will be to operate those facilities, Kelley said. Travel and gatherings related to the holiday seasons are expected to accelerate the growth in transmission, he added.

The city’s staff is affected similarly, according to Verbrugge. Positive tests and employees under quarantine due to potential exposure strain the city’s ability to provide customer service within its buildings and affects the city’s staff in multiple departments, he said. Staffing for public safety and public works employees has not yet reached a crisis stage, he noted.

Councilmember Nathan Coulter said it is easy to get lost in the numbers, but “it’s clear that they all point in one direction,” he said.

The responsibility of controlling the virus doesn’t fall to only those on the government payroll, he added. Beyond personal responsibility, there’s interpersonal responsibility people have to each other, as neighbors in a community. “We aren’t just making choices for ourselves, we’re making choices for everyone else, too,” he said.

“We need to think, and I would say more importantly, act that way if we’re ever going to get control of this situation.”

The Sun Current’s coronavirus coverage can be accessed online at tr.im/c19.

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