As elementary students are preparing to return to their classrooms at Bloomington Public Schools, and COVID-19 vaccinations are underway, Bloomington’s acting public health administrator emphasized precaution in the weeks to come.

“The next few months are still going to be hard,” said Nick Kelley, addressing the Bloomington City Council during its Jan. 4 meeting.

Kelley’s regular coronavirus pandemic updates during council meetings highlight trends in case counts, locally and nationally, and include updates on public health issues. Following the conclusion of consecutive weeks of public holidays, “the United States remains on a dangerous trajectory with COVID-19 cases,” Kelley said.

The nation had been on a downward trajectory until the final week of 2020, but that has changed, with the new case count on the increase. More than 349,000 Americans had died from COVID-19 as of last week, and the rolling seven-day average case count for Bloomington reached 22 new cases per day at the end of December, similar to the average at the end of October, according to Kelley.

Bloomington’s overall total COVID-19 cases had topped 6,300, with 418 hospitalizations and 125 deaths, he noted.

Acknowledging that 2020 was a difficult year for many residents, with significant impacts upon their day-to-day lives, the challenges of protecting public health will continue, even as vaccinations are beginning. “It won’t change as fast as we want,” Kelley said.

Bloomington’s Public Health Division on Jan. 5 began offering vaccinations to certified emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, as well as police officers and firefighters, according to Kelley, as those groups are part of the first priority for vaccine allocation.

Calling vaccinations the exit strategy for the pandemic, Kelley said it remains important that residents prevent the spread of COVID-19. It will take time to disseminate vaccinations, so residents need to remain vigilant when it comes to wearing masks in public settings and maintaining social distancing in public spaces, he explained.

Does that mean residents should wear a mask outdoors, such as at public parks? That was a question Councilmember Dwayne Lowman said he was asked by a resident.

Based upon guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health, residents who may be within 6 feet of other residents, including at parks, should wear a mask, Kelley noted.

COVID-19 information and data from Bloomington’s Public Health Division is available online at blm.mn/covid.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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