The world outbreak of the coronavirus has folks across the region bracing for the worst as cases continue to mount in Minnesota and elsewhere.
As of Monday afternoon, there are 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota and about 3,800 in the U.S. with about 65 deaths. Of the Minnesota total, there are three cases in southeastern Minnesota, including Waseca and Olmsted counties. Blue Earth County also reported a case on Monday.
Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said there are no cases in Steele or Dodge counties at this time. But, she was quick to add she’s not very optimistic that it will stay that way.
Two weeks ago, there were 1,700 cases of coronavirus in Italy and the country had reported 34 deaths. Now, Italy is reported an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 people have died.
The U.S. surgeon general said Monday the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is a sign that infections are expected to rise in America as the government steps up testing and financial markets continue to fall.
With the serious scope of the outbreak getting larger, local and state officials are stepping up their efforts to curb the infections.
On the local level, Mayo Clinic established Drive Thru Testing Monday for those suspected of having COVID-19. The testing locations are set up in Owatonna, Austin, Albert Lea and Rochester. Mayo wants patients to call prior to showing up at the clinics.
Caron explained that anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to go to Mayo Clinics to get tested. Symptoms include: shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
Mayo’s Owatonna clinic, for example, is equipped to do approximately 150 tests per day, Caron said.
Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime emergency on Friday. “The safety and well-being of Minnesotans is my top priority and we are working around the clock to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said. “I am declaring a peacetime emergency in Minnesota to ensure the state is able to respond to more rapidly to issues as they arrive. We are looking to the future and preparing for the next chapters of this pandemic as it continues to evolve.”
By Sunday, the governor ordered all schools closed by Wednesday until March 27 at which time state officials will reevaluate the situation. Some schools like Blooming Prairie and Medford closed already on Monday, two days ahead of the mandated closing.
Also on Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with its recommendation that organizers cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the U.S. for the next eight weeks. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings and other types of assemblies.
The CDC reports that large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities.
The recommendation does not apply to the day-to-day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning or businesses.
There have been many cancellations of events throughout the area. Caron said that Public Health has not ordered any cancellations to this point as groups and organizations have done a good job of choosing to cancel their own events.
Caron said her office has had a Public Health Emergency Preparedness program for nearly two decades. As of last week, Steele County had activated a partial Emergency Operations Center and are meeting on a regular basis with community partners to “efficiently respond if we should have confirmed cases in our county,” Caron said.
In an effort to slow COVID-19, Caron issued some key recommendations. They include:
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or into your sleeve, and then throw the tissue in the crash.
• Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
• Avoid touching your face.
• Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs. Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.
On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health released additional recommendations:
• Do not allow social distancing of 6 feet per person.
• People and families at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness should stay at home and avoid gatherings or other situations of potential exposures, including travel.
• Employers should make telework arrangements for workers whose duties can be done remotely.
• Employers should stagger work schedules and limit non-essential work travel.
• Hospitals and other health care facilities should implement triage before entering facilities.
According to Public Health, shopping for groceries and other items is not affected by any of the recommendations, although it is a good idea to limit close contact when doing so. People who are sick are advised to stay at home.
“We know these strategies will impact the lives of all Minnesotans, but we are hopeful we can reduce the impacts of this outbreak by working together,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. “All Minnesotans share the risks and the responsibilities now.”
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, according to Caron. However, she noted, research is underway.
“We continue to recommend that you get your flu shot if you have not already done so this season,” Caron said. “People are getting sick with influenza in our area and the flu shot can help protect you.”