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Mille Lacs Community Health Services Administrator and Supervisor Kay Nastrom recently reported approximately 35% of county employees from various departments continue to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nastrom provided a COVID-19 update for the Mille Lacs County Board Sept. 1. Her commission report was made by via video for a regular meeting and work session.

As of Sept. 1, 2020, Minnesota had 76,355 total positive cases with 502 newly reported cases and six new deaths on that date. In Mille Lacs County, a total of 101 positive cases have been reported to date with three deaths in the county.

As of Sept. 3, Aitkin County had 52 cases and one death, Kanabec County 69 cases and six deaths, Morrison County 124 cases and one death, Pine County 158 cases and zero deaths, and Isanti County 183 cases and zero deaths, Nastrom reported.

Other COVID-19 county totals include Crow Wing with 320 cases and 16 deaths, Chisago with 327 cases and one death, Benton with 414 cases and three deaths, Sherburne with 939 cases and 13 deaths, and Stearns with 3,365 cases, 22 deaths.

Congregate care facilities reporting an exposure from a positive COVID-19 case in a resident, staff person, or visiting provider in Mille Lacs County included a health report of one case at Sterling Pointe Senior Living facility in Princeton, she said.

Nastrom reported that all of the counties have increased in total case numbers. With the number of daily cases increasing since the July 25 Minnesota mask mandate by Gov. Tim Walz, Nastrom was asked for her interpretation of what the Minnesota Department of Health says regarding the intention of the mask mandate to “slow the spread” and an appearance masks haven’t been effective.

“I do know masks are not 100% effective,” Nastrom said. “Not everyone is following the recommendations.” Mille Lacs County Community and Veterans Services Director Beth Crook said officials believe the spread has been caused by private gatherings where people don’t adhere to COVID-19 recommendations.

Nastrom stated that of the 1,823 deaths in the State (as of Sept. 1), 1,340 are from long-term care or assisted living facilities.

Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman added that approximately 80% of the deaths are of those over the age of 65 with pre-existing conditions. He asked Nastrom if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 6% of total deaths were of COVID-19 alone. She said that was her understanding.

Assistant County Administrator Holly Wilson asked Nastrom if a quarantine was required if someone may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Nastrom responded that the current guidelines state that there is no quarantine for a possible exposure but that health officials take into consideration during contact tracing the length of exposure or if they had a mask on. “If you have no symptoms, there is no quarantine,” Nastrom replied. Mille Lacs County Commissioner Phil Peterson asked, “How does all of this end?”

Crook responded, quoting epidemiologist Michael T. Osterholm by saying, “It comes to an end when herd immunity is reached, meaning approximately 70% of the population contracts had the virus, or there is a vaccination developed. Oman added, “I really like hearing about herd immunity. What’s happening at the federal and state level will not get us to that because we’re doing everything we can to not infect each other.”

Oman further commented he is not a public health official, but, in his opinion, to achieve herd immunity would require individuals who don’t have a predisposed medical condition be in the community working with businesses opened back up.

“Those people over 65 with health concerns should be distancing as they normally would,” Oman said. “The original goal was to not overpopulate the hospitals. We are getting push back from so many businesses saying they just want to be open. I think there is a disconnect. That is just my opinion as an administrator.”

Oman added that he is proud of what Mille Lacs County staff has done to embrace the mandates and safety precautions. “Whether we have an opinion or not, we have embraced the rules and have low cases, he said.

A new COVID-19 dashboard has been created on the Mille Lacs County website and can be found at http://www.co.mille-lacs.mn.us/.

T.A. LeBrun is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger and covers county government for the Union-Times. She can be reached at news@millelacsmessenger.com.

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