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Mille Lacs County Public Health is making plans and purchasing additional equipment using CARES Act dollars in preparation of what they say will be a mass inoculation.

During a special meeting of the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners in late September, board members approved the purchase of a trailer and equipment for the county’s public health department, in a coordinated effort with the Minnesota Department of Public Health (MDH to gear up for a potential rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine should one become available.

The total cost for the effort is approximately $45,000 for a trailer, supplies and a vehicle (which type of vehicle is yet to be determined) to be covered by CARES Act funds and not county dollars.

The equipment would be needed to service approximately 20,000 members of the public for COVID-19 testing and vaccine inoculation.

The remaining 7,000 members of the public will receive testing and vaccine inoculation from their place of work or work-sponsored healthcare.

The equipment would be used for setup of large testing and vaccine inoculation sites at Milaca Public Works, the R.O.C. facility in Onamia, the Princeton Fairgrounds, the rest stop in between Milaca and Onamia, Princeton High School, Milaca High School, Onamia High School, Isle High School, and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

The equipment would be used for smaller apartment building and home test and vaccine inoculation at places such as family home nursing facilities, caregivers’ homes, low income apartments, and homes where elderly, handicapped or persons without vehicles live.

Mille Lacs Facility Operations Manager Noelan Lange said that the county currently does not have the type of vehicle needed for these purposes.

“There are a number of about 20,000 people who would need to get vaccines, and the rest would get them through work,” Lange said. “This is through public health and how they’re gauging the needs for the pandemic.”

Mille Lacs County Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen posed several questions during the board’s Sept. 29 special meeting. He asked, “Will everyone be required to be tested or vaccinated? Because not everyone will. Also, how will everything not freeze? And who’s going to do this when everyone is working from home?”

Mille Lacs County Community and Veterans Services Director Beth Crook responded, “When this gets rolled out from MDH, their staff would be the staff who are holding these mobile clinics. My public health nurses would be required to go to these sites, and they would have the PPE needed to hold these clinics, with N95 masks, gowns and gloves.” She added, in her personal opinion that not everyone would want to get the vaccine.

Commissioner Genny Reynolds added, “I don’t see this being necessary. Why are we not doing this regionally? I can’t see everyone getting a vaccine … I think the numbers are off with 20,000 people, and we are really only looking at about 8-10,000 people.”

County Administrator Pat Oman added that the trailer and vehicle could have other uses in the future in other departments.

“Some people are going to want to get the vaccine quickly so they can get back to work and get their kids back to school,” Crook said. “We are a task board to provide essential services to the community.” Beyond the use for mass inoculation, she gave the example of getting services and essential items to those in quarantine who don’t have family to help meet those needs.

Commissioner Tim Wilhelm suggested purchasing a tri-cab bus which would have more climate control and be more accessible.

A resolution to approve the purchase of a vehicle and trailer failed with all commissioners voting against the resolution except Dave Oslin.

A new resolution was presented and passed to approve the purchase of a trailer and associated supplies but to look into the purchase of a different vehicle with commissioners Tim Wilhelm, Genny Reynolds and Roger Tellinghuisen voting in support and Commissioners Dave Oslin and Phil Peterson voting against the resolution.

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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