The Minnesota Department of Health sent a letter Nov. 9 to Mille Lacs County elected officials warning them that the county has a COVID-19 positivity rate of greater than 5%.
According to state health officials that means the virus and its spread have reached a concerning level.
The letter, which was presented at a Nov. 10 county board special meeting work session, stated that higher rates of virus transmission increase the risk for all members of a community, including residents and staff in long-term care facilities.
The Mille Lacs County COVID-19 Dashboard, which can be found at tinyurl.com/yxhk93ta, shows that cases were at their highest on Nov. 3 with a total of 44 confirmed cases.
But cases have since dropped to 32 on Nov. 4, 27 on Nov. 5, four on Nov. 6, and one confirmed case on Nov. 7.
No data beyond Nov. 7 was available when this edition of the Union-Times went to press. Mille Lacs Community Health Services Administrator and Supervisor Kay Winterfeldt said the county has had 21 COVID-19 deaths to date, and all but four of those cases occurred in residents of long-term care facilities.
The four cases that did not occur in long-term care facilities took the life of one person in their 20s, one in their 60s, one in their 70s and one in their 80s, Winterfeldt said.
Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman asked Winterfeldt what new action the state has taken to curb long-term care facility deaths.He also asked if any medication regimen is being given to those who are ill or if people are just being quarantined.
Winterfeld responded saying that MDH has reached out to assisted living facilities and has asked staff to be tested regularly and ask those who interact with the elderly and health-compromised to use prevention measures. “If it (COVID-19) gets to 10%, they won’t allow visitors,” Winterfeldt said.
Oman brought up schools being switched to distance learning, stating he has empathy for people who have kids and employees who have school-age children.
It’s really a challenge for teachers and students to function during this, and I find it odd, for a small group of individuals, that we are shutting down the larger group,” Oman said.
Winterfeldt replied, “When you’re thinking beyond the kids in school, children are more susceptible to carrying the virus. Children go home to not just mom and dad … they can be bringing it to the senior population who are not handling the virus well.”
Oman responded saying that was a good point but that the entire state population is being shut down for a small demographic and that perhaps a better strategy to address those in long-term care should be looked at.
He also expressed his concern for area businesses. “Businesses can’t sustain forever,” Oman said. “They are saying that 50% of businesses are going away. We will continue to take it seriously, but at the same time, we have to look at long-term consequences of schools not operating and businesses not operating and look at it holistically.”
Winterfeldt addressed the roll out of a potential vaccine recently created by Pfizer.
“They will slowly roll that out for those at high risk and staff at hospitals and assisted living facilities,” she said. “It will take a long time to get to the general public.” She mentioned an early 2021 timeframe.
“Public health will assist when the vaccine is sent into the county,” Winterfeldt told commissioners.
Winterfeldt added that she didn’t think the state could mandate a vaccination because people can currently opt out of other vaccinations.
MDH recommended these steps to county officials to help reduce community spread of COVID-19:
Encourage compliance with masking requirements and gathering restrictions:
Increase communication to and partnerships with businesses, including restaurants/bars, to reinforce the harmful impact of spread on vulnerable LTC residents:
Amplify communication in the community regarding the risk and spread of the virus, especially to elders;
Encourage those most at risk for severe disease – the elderly and those with health conditions – to stay at home as much as possible and encourage those who interact with them to use prevention measures carefully.
T.A. LeBrun is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger and covers county government for the Union-Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.