The Minnesota Department of Health sent a letter on Nov. 9 to Mille Lacs County elected officials warning them that the county has a COVID positivity rate of greater than 5%, meaning the spread of the virus in the county has reached a concerning level.

The letter, which was presented at the Nov. 10 county board special meeting work session, stated that “higher rates of virus transmission in the community increase the risk for all members of your community, including residents and staff in long-term care (LTC) 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 that day. 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 as of deadline.

Mille Lacs Community Health Services Administrator and Supervisor Kay Winterfeldt said that 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.

Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman asked Winterfeldt what new action the State has taken to curb long term care facility deaths and if any type of medicinal regiment is being given or if they 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 that he feels for people who have kids and the 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,” noted Oman.

Winterfeldt responded, “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.

Oman also expressed his concern for area businesses. “Businesses can’t sustain forever. They are saying that 50% of businesses are going away,” said Oman. “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 out for those at high risk and staff at hospitals and assisted living facilities,” said Winterfeldt. “It will take a long time to get to the general public … thinking early in 2021. Public health will assist when the vaccine is sent into the county.”

Winterfeldt added that she didn’t think the State could mandate a vaccination as people can currently opt out of other vaccinations.

MDH recommend the following steps to county officials to help reduce community spread:

• 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.

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