Countryside reaches out to communities to prepare them to deal with coronavirus

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher
Swift County Monitor-News

Editor’s note: This story is written with information from the Swift County Board of Commissioners March 3 meeting and from Minnesota Public Radio.

Countryside Public Health is reaching out to schools, local governments, emergency management teams, human services agencies and health care providers throughout its five-county area as concern about the spread of the coronavirus grows.

Countryside provides public health services to residents of Swift, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle and Big Stone counties. It will be at the forefront of a coronavirus outbreak should the area start seeing cases.

That outreach takes on new urgency as Minnesota sees its first two cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

An older adult resident of Ramsey County who recently traveled on a cruise ship with a known coronavirus case is now presumed to be Minnesota’s first confirmed case of Covid-19, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday, adding that the person is recovering now in isolation at home.

Health officials said the unnamed patient began to develop symptoms on Feb. 25 and sought health care Thursday. Samples were collected from the person and sent to the state Health Department laboratory, which confirmed the case at about 12:40 p.m. Friday.

The agency is awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control, but the state was moving ahead on the expectation that it is Covid-19.

Health officials are working now to identify and reach out to all those who may have come in contact with the infected person and will ask them to quarantine themselves for 14 days from their exposure; they will be monitored for fever and respiratory symptoms.

“I’m confident Minnesota is prepared for this,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Friday afternoon. “The state of Minnesota is taking this very seriously and has been for weeks.”

Because the spread of the coronavirus is evolving so rapidly, Countryside was making sure it met with its counties to update them on what it is doing.

“We are trying to be out there and be that public education agency that is getting information out to the public,” Kristin Boike, Countryside’s assistant director of community health programs told commissioners. “We are giving out emergency planning handbooks. We are also really encouraging people to stick to the CDC website for information.”

About 80 percent of the people who contract the coronavirus will have a mild case of Covid-19. “We are going to have about 14 percent that are going to have moderate symptoms because of underlying health conditions,” Boike said. “We are going to see about 5 percent with ICU admissions. Statics are now saying that about 2.3 percent will die from it.”

However, Boike said that current statistics are based on the disease in China. It will be interesting to see what the mortality rates are for the U.S. once it starts collecting the data, she said.

It will also depend on how the U.S. contains the spread of Covid-19 and how people are treated, she told commissioners. Minnesota labs are now testing people for the coronavirus.

Countryside has opened its department operations center, which means its administrative team and its two disease prevention and control, and emergency preparedness coordinators, are involved.

Gloria Tobias has been there 39 years and is retiring at the end of March. She is working with her replacement person to make sure that the information is getting out to the counties, the schools, elected officials, and the public within the five-county area, Boike said.

Countryside is trying to get out factual information to avoid any panic, she said. “Because if you have the facts, you are not going to have as much panic,” she said.

What is the fatality rate for the season influenza? Commissioner Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, asked.

It is about 0.01 percent, Boike replied. That makes 2.3 percent significantly higher. The World Health organization has said the mortality rate at around 3.4 percent based on preliminary figures.

There are vaccines for the influenza virus that can immunize a person against it or lessen the severity for those who still might get it, Boike said. There are also anti-viral medications that can help lessen the severity of symptoms. However, with Covid-19 there are no vaccines or anti-virals at this point.

The most severe complication for those most vulnerable to Covid-19 is pneumonia, she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) may be handling the federal funding in response to the coronavirus, Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington, who was at the county board meeting, said. That may mean it would be best if Countryside and local governments form a working group to coordinate the response to a spread of the coronavirus in the area.

Countryside is going to be meeting with each county with its emergency managers and family services directors, Boike said. There was a conference call last week between Countryside and the five county emergency managers in its region. In Swift County, that person is Bill McGeary.

Last Friday, Countryside met with the five human services directors. In Swift County, that person is Catie Lee. That meeting was about providing essential services. “So, if we had to implement our non-pharmaceutical plan, which is isolation, quarantine, and having schools and businesses do social distancing, we want to be able to talk to those two entities first.”

There is a very active emergency preparedness group in Swift County, she said.

 “We want to make sure that we have our basis covered,” Boike said. “We don’t want not be that person that gets in the news for not being on top of things.”

 “We have the flu all the time,” Commission Chair Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton, said. “It seems like if people just take precautions like they would regular occurring flu, we will get the vast majority of people through.”

Commissioner Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, said that he was not so concerned about the coronavirus because since the meeting started almost 18 minutes ago, about 18 people had died of heart disease.

Should Covid-19 begin to spread, state and local public health authorities may consider moves such as temporary closures of child care facilities and schools, but officials Friday said those moves are not being considered at this point.

Anticipating the arrival of Covid-19, the state Health Department had already requested $25 million in state funding to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Friday that the Senate would approve $20.9 million Monday.
Malcolm said her department was keeping pace with the need to test samples.

Since the outbreak started in China in December, more than 100,000 cases and 3,400 deaths have been reported in more than 80 countries. That total includes 233 U.S. cases and 14 deaths as of Friday morning, the Health Department said.

Walz, Malcolm and other officials continued to emphasize that the best way Minnesotans can help stop the spread of Covid-19 or any respiratory virus is to cover your cough, wash your hands often and stay home if you feel sick.

The state Health Department has established a hotline for Minnesotans who have concerns about the Covid-19 virus. The hotline number is 651-201-3920.

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