As viral hotspots appear around the country, Pine County Community Health Services Administrator Sam Lo said that county residents must continue to take action to protect against COVID-19 or risk an outbreak.
There have been 105 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Pine County as of July 9, with patients ages ranging from one year old to age 74. Pine County Community Health Services Administrator Sam Lo said there have been two hospitalizations – and as yet, no deaths. Though 73 of the early cases were found at the Willow River Correctional Facility, the recent cases have been found in the community.
On June 29, Lo gave a report to the Pine County Board of Commissioners describing what actions the county is taking to combat COVID-19 and to give an overview of the challenges posed by the virus.
Lo said that county public health workers have been doing contact tracing to reach out to people who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. The first step is to talk to the patient. She explained: “Some of the questions are, ‘Where have you since been two days before you were infectious? Who did you come in contact with? Did you travel? What symptoms do you have?’”
Lo said contact tracing has been an effective tool to reduce cases.
“We do a lot of investigation about where exactly did you go so we can reach out to those people as well and get them quarantined ... because they might go out and spread it further,” Lo said
Lo noted that they continue to receive calls at the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 320-591-1690 (or email@example.com). That hotline is open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help with questions about COVID-19, connecting with local resources and accessing essential services. Those calling after 5 p.m. can leave a message which will be returned within one business day.
Essential services, consultations
Pine County also provides essential services to those in quarantine, including medications and support with medication payments.
“If you are in isolation and you need something, we’re the ones to call,” Lo said.
She said the county has also been doing consultations for businesses and organizations around re-opening.
“We’ve had schools call in and say, ‘Can you look at our youth sports program?’ because they need a re-opening plan for their sport. So we review it and give them notes and feedback.”
‘hotspots ... can happen anywhere’
Lo said Minnesota’s infectious rate is low compared to most other states, and noted that some states are seeing very high growth in cases.
“You can see the impact of social distancing and masking and stay-at-home orders,” Lo said. “Those all impact the effective infectious rate.”
She cited Florida and Texas as states that have become hotspots for the coronavirus. She said that Texas hospitals were reportedly running out of beds.
“That’s what we don’t want,” Lo said. “I think the thing to remember about hotspots is that they can happen anywhere if you get complacent and you think this is going to go away and you’re going to be fine.”
She said that by the end of the year COVID-19 will likely be the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, and that one in every 10 deaths will be due to COVID-19.
“We’re not doing all that great as a nation,” she said. “We’re not out of the woods by any means.”
Lo noted that cases of COVID-19 are on the decrease in Europe, while cases in the United States dipped, but are rising again.
“Europe ... has done a good job of staying very cautious about their re-opening and being strategic about the parts they do re-open,” Lo said. “The US has never really had that drop. We just kind of flatlined and now we’re going back up.”
Lo urged everyone to do their part by wearing masks around other people, especially in indoor places.
“Please wear masks,” she said. “I went grocery shopping this weekend at Walmart and I was one in 10 people wearing masks. It was very frustrating.”
Pine County Administrator David Minke said he went to the grocery store twice this past week, once on a weekday and once on a weekend.
“On a weekday, almost everybody had a mask on,” he said. “But on the weekend almost nobody had a mask on. It dawned on me that people shopping during the weekday were probably the people who live there. They care about themselves and their community.”
‘I want it to be over’
Lo said she understands how tired people are of dealing with all the concerns and issues surrounding COVID-19.
“I get it, because I’m so tired of COVID too, and I want it to be over. But it’s not going to be gone for a while.
“People are over it,” she continued. “I’m over it. I want to go out and, like, lick a doorknob and get it and be over it. But ... I’m not actually going to go lick a doorknob.”
Lo said the best course of action is for people to continue social distancing and other sensible precautions, protecting their own safety and the safety of others, until the danger is past –which might be more than a year from now.
She said scientists studying COVID-19 have discovered it does not seem to mutate as often as other viruses, and there is a bright side to this news.
“It probably means that a vaccine will be very effective,” Lo said. “[Right now] we need to keep doing what we’re doing so our cases will stay low.”
“We can save lives if we act smartly,” Minke said. “It doesn’t mean that you have to stay locked in your basement, but it does mean you probably can’t do everything you want to do. And you should wear a mask.”