Coronavirus cause for concern, cancellations in Crow Wing County

According to the World Health Organization, there were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,600 deaths in 118 countries, areas or territories with cases, as of Thursday evening.


Rumor of a Crow Wing County case of the dreaded coronavirus factored into the county officials’ recent decision to attempt to stop the spread of misinformation via social media.

Minnesota officials confirmed Thursday, March 12, a ninth case of COVID-19, which is the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that first emerged in China in late 2019.

“I would tell you that I have no information from the (Minnesota) Department of Health that we have had a case in Crow Wing County,” County Administrator Tim Houle said Thursday afternoon.

A case in Stearns County — the closest case to Crow Wing — was reported Thursday afternoon, with the other confirmed cases in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted and Ramsey counties. No deaths in the state, however, have been reported.


Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle

“We want to be a trusted source of information. I don't want to overblow things. I just want to tell people what we know — as fact — as we know it,” Houle said.

On Thursday, officials from Crow Wing County put up a Facebook post and tweeted: “There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Crow Wing County.”

“You know there's a lot of information that goes out in a circumstance like this. And I think sometimes the news sources that people can rely on aren't necessarily valid and credible news sources,” Houle said. “If Facebook is your primary news source, I think you're in trouble.”

Houle said Thursday he has been closely monitoring the situation, participating in three calls within the last three days regarding the potentially fatal disease.

“And so I am tied into the joint (public) information center for the Department of Health,” Houle said. “And, of course, I'm not the only one here. We have (county) staff and public health, who are actively monitoring it as well.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from the COVID-19 disease. This includes older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

“Just because you are over a certain age does not mean that that's like an automatic fatality,” Houle said of the county population, which skews older in terms of demographics. “Also, the quality of your health care that you have is also an important factor in the mortality rates.”


Essentia Health, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, St. Gabriel’s Hospital, Riverwood Healthcare Center and Lakewood Health System are taking precautions against COVID-19 and its spread.

“We’re pretty lucky in the volume of quality health care we have available in our community, so I would like to think that that would have some offsetting positive influences as well,” Houle said.

County employees are not working from home or telecommuting as of Thursday afternoon, according to Houle.

“Rural areas do have an advantage in that regard. Social distancing is kind of built in more,” Houle said. “But we are closely monitoring Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines, and it's a highly fluid situation.”

According to the World Health Organization, there were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,600 deaths in 118 countries, areas or territories with cases, as of Thursday evening.

“I think it is fair to say we would expect coronavirus cases in the United States to continue to rise. It remains to be seen how well our prevention efforts can mitigate the spread,” Houle said.

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, those in close contact with each other (about 6 feet). Spread is from respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may also spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

“Therefore, administrators of jails and correctional facilities play an important role in preparing to respond to COVID-19, and in responding if COVID-19 spread becomes prevalent in their communities,” according to the state health department.


Houle said county jail officials always have a plan for contagion outbreaks in a jail.

“In fact, we just had a salmonella outbreak that was not that long ago. And so we do know how we would handle that. And, basically, it is we would go into lockdown, which means we do not allow folks to congregate, even within the jail, and we have plans for short staffing.”

In Baxter, City Administrator Brad Chapulis said the city is continually in communication with state and county agencies on the topic. Knowing this is on the forefront of people’s minds, Baxter put up information on the coronavirus on its website to help inform residents. The city is also having internal discussions, not unlike a host of businesses, on how city staff could work in a virtual workplace should that be needed.

Brainerd Public Schools

After hearing many questions about the outbreak, Brainerd Public Schools sent a statement out to parents and posted on its Facebook page Thursday, March 12, addressing concerns.

The district is not taking any action yet, but the statement assured the public district leaders are reviewing emergency management plans to prepare for the spread of the disease.

“We are working closely with state and local agencies to stay up-to-date on the best ways to keep students and staff safe,” the statement read. “We will continue to update our plans and provide you with more information as it becomes available. If you have questions about infectious diseases, call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.”

The statement went on to list precautions everyone should take to help prevent the spread of any illness. Recommendations included washing hands often with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands, staying home when sick, being prepared at home with food and other necessities, and frequently cleaning all common work areas.

Superintendent Laine Larson was unavailable for further comment Thursday, but said she would be in contact with the Dispatch Friday with more information.


The Pillager School District sent out a similar statement to parents.

Central Lakes College

Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra announced Thursday an extra week off from classes for all Minnesota State College and Universities, which includes Central Lakes College in Brainerd and Staples.

The 32 schools on spring break March 9-15 — including CLC — will not have classes the following week either, with classes resuming March 23.

The five Minnesota State colleges and universities with spring break scheduled March 16-20 will have the following week of classes off as well, resuming March 30.

“While there will be no classes during each campuses’ extra week, administrators, faculty, and staff will spend that week exploring alternative modes of delivery and adjust campus learning spaces to ensure the safety of our communities,” the statement read.

All campuses — including residence halls, dining facilities and student support services — will remain open and appropriately staffed, including student workers.

“Our goal is to accommodate students and help them continue their education despite interruptions caused by COVID-19,” Malhotra wrote, also noting he is committed to taking all steps necessary, in consultation with administration, to protect the health and safety of all Minnesota State faculty, staff and students.


Cuyuna Regional Medical Center is a health care provider in the Brainerd lakes area. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center is closing its Care Center and Heartwood Senior Living Community to visitors to ensure those who live and work there remain safe and healthy. All community events and classes scheduled at Heartwood have been canceled indefinitely.

Following guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, visitors will be limited except for special circumstances, such as end-of-life, when a visitor is essential for a resident’s emotional well-being and care. Such visits will be limited to minimize exposure beyond the family member. A simple wellness screening of symptoms will be conducted.

“Protecting your health and safety is our top priority and we are doing everything we can to prevent this virus from entering our community,” CEO Kyle Bauer said in a news release.

CRMC’s hospital visitors are limited to immediate family only, and children should not visit. In certain instances, visitors may be screened or required to wear a mask, gown or gloves while in the facility. Phone, video chat, email or social media communication is, however, encouraged.

Just For Kix announcement

Cindy Clough, executive director at Just For Kix in Brainerd, Friday sent an email to families regarding COVID-19 and how it may affect the Together We Dance competitions and regular classes.

“We are writing to assure you that our company leaders and coaches are reviewing emergency management plans to prepare for the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It is going to be a group effort to ensure the health of our athletes/dancers and their families. We want to continue to provide a quality and memorable experience for our families throughout Just For Kix.

“JFK has been and will continue to, closely monitor the evolving status of the coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as continue to follow the recommendations prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, we are paying close attention to recommendations by states, counties and local government websites where our classes and events are held.”


The email stated as a precautionary measure, the admission tables at all Together We Dance events will be stocked with hand sanitizers.

“We are asking that sick or at-risk individuals stay home,” the email stated. “We are encouraging coaches and personnel to act with precaution. We recommend that another form of acknowledgment is used other than a high five or handshake with teammates. We will discourage the holding hands in awards circles. We will encourage hand washing following routines in which dancers hold hands.”

Just For Kix suggested coaches should educate dancers on precautionary measures and keep practice and performance areas clean. Dancers were advised to not share water bottles, towels and other personal items, and also not to lick their hands and wipe their shoes — some do this when they worry the floor is slippery, JFK stated.

Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center

E-Visits at Essentia Health

Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center officials asked anyone suspecting they may have COVID-19 to call first, so they can appropriately triage them to areas where they would be best screened. This helps reduce the risk of exposure, along with electronic doctor visits.

Essentia Health emailed a reminder Thursday for people to remember to use its E-Visit services to treat the following conditions:

  • Allergy symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, or eye irritation;

  • Bug bites, including tick bites;

  • Colds;

  • Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis pink eye;

  • Irritable bowel syndrome;

  • Low back pain;

  • Mouth sores, including canker sores;

  • Stye, a red and painful bump near the eyelid;

  • Skin conditions, including: acne, dermatitis, diaper rash, eczema, mild burns, shingles and tinea infections, also called ringworm;

  • Tobacco use;

  • Upper respiratory infections, including sinus infections or influenza;

  • Urinary tract infections; and

  • Vaginal yeast infections.


The Crossing Arts Alliance in downtown Brainerd canceled its Second Saturday activities, set for Saturday, March 14. It also plans to close the art gallery for the day.

“We plan to reopen next week and anticipate going forward with our regularly scheduled activities,” Lisa Jordan, executive director, stated in a news release. “This means that Studio Wednesday and our other educational opportunities will still go forward, some with limited class sizes. We encourage everyone to make the best decision for you, your families, and neighbors, and stay home if you are not feeling well.

“We are acting with an abundance of caution to protect the vulnerable among us. We appreciate your understanding. We will keep you updated as the situation progresses.”

The Aitkin Chamber of Commerce canceled its Commerce and Outdoor Show originally scheduled Saturday and Sunday. Two Facebook posts Wednesday from the chamber of commerce said staff did not want to make the decision to cancel, but felt it was appropriate given the Minnesota Department of Health’s suggestion on social distancing.

Tri-County Health Care postponed its Wellebrate event scheduled Saturday, noting wellness events are often widely attended, especially by the elderly population, which is at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. The event will be rescheduled when appropriate.

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I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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