Four clients and three staff members at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in Brainerd recently tested positive for COVID-19, and the source was apparently a church gathering, according to a spokesperson.

Mary Brown, vice president of marketing for the organization, confirmed the outbreak at the substance use residential treatment center Tuesday, Sept. 22, adding at this time everyone but one person has recovered and are now out of quarantine. Brown said the origin of the disease caused by the coronavirus in the facility was believed to be staff members who were exposed at a church. Brown did not know which church at the time of the phone interview, but indicated it was in the Brainerd area.

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Brown said the instance of COVID-19 at the facility is a reflection of the impacts occurring throughout communities, and noted the organization was previously commended by the Minnesota Department of Health for its handling of a positive case early in the pandemic. On March 28, a client tested positive, making it the first confirmed case reported in Crow Wing County. The case was ultimately attributed to the county of permanent residence of the client.

“Generally speaking, the people we serve and the people on our team are going to mirror the community, so we’re going to look just like everything else that happens there,” Brown said. “ … As soon as there is a positive case, that person is removed from the population. Like, the staff members wouldn’t have come back. They would’ve just been at home. The clients would’ve been quarantined. We have separate rooms set up for them so they can stay away from the rest of the population. Even if they were asymptomatic, if they’re positive, they stay separate.”

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Despite the outbreak, the residential facility never reappeared on the health department’s list of congregate care facilities with exposures. A request of a health department spokesperson to determine why this was the case had not yet been returned Tuesday evening.

Health department study heads to lakes area Thursday

A team from the Minnesota Department of Health will be in the area Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 24-26, conducting a survey called a modified Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response, or CASPER survey concerning COVID-19.

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The team will do interviews and take blood and nasal swab samples. This information will tell the health department more about the COVID-19 virus spread. Participation is voluntary. Team members are public health workers. Survey teams will wear masks when first knocking on the door as well as vests with name tags that identify them as members of a Minnesota Department of Health CASPER team. Their vehicles will have magnets on the side stating “COVID-19 Survey Team.” For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2HpBV5d.

There will be four small areas in Crow Wing County targeted: two in Brainerd, one in Crosslake and one in Nisswa. In addition, teams will be deployed to the following area communities Thursday through Saturday: Aitkin, Motley, Pine River, Pierz, Long Prairie and Staples.

The survey is to help the health department understand the effect COVID-19 is having on Minnesota communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed CASPER as an evidence-based tool to assess community needs. The surveys have been used before to collect household information during public health emergencies such as hurricanes, oil spills, and the Zika virus outbreak. Several other states are also conducting COVID-19 CASPERs.

Information learned from the survey will help public health workers, and others who are part of the COVID-19 response, make decisions that best meet the needs of each community affected by COVID-19. Through the CASPER survey, health department leaders hope to understand how COVID-19 has spread in Minnesota communities, understand what caused COVID-19 to spread in certain areas, explore how COVID-19 transmission and infection rates differ among regions in Minnesota, identify the percentage of people infected with COVID-19 that have no symptoms and improve health messaging and help stop COVID-19 spread.

The survey is funded through COVID-19 Relief Funds approved by the Minnesota Legislature to conduct this survey and other studies.

Preparing for the vaccine

At its Tuesday meeting, the Crow Wing County Board approved an expenditure to purchase supplies in preparation for providing a future vaccine for COVID-19.

While there is not yet a vaccine available, Crow Wing County Public Health Supervisor Michelle Moritz said the county is buying the equipment now while it can use federal funding received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

“We are not sure, we don’t know if we’ll have money coming in the spring or late winter when we’re anticipating vaccines being available,” Moritz said. “Right now we know we have the CARES funds and this is some of the planning I see some of the other local public health departments also utilizing. … as well as preparing for what we expect to come in the future.”

The funding request was for $111,285.28. The most significant expense as part of preparing to provide mass vaccinations was tents and other shelters to protect staff from outdoor elements.

“This would not look like our typical vaccination clinic like we have practiced in past years for season influenza. We really need to practice social distancing. Depending on the weather, it could be snow, it could be rain, it could be 90-degree heat,” Moritz said during a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re looking at shelter as well as our standard stuff like Band-Aids and alcohol wipes and syringes and sharps containers.”

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Moritz said she recently learned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also be providing syringes to the county. Other considerations for spending are storage needs for the future vaccination. Moritz noted with several different vaccines under development, some require standard refrigeration for storage while others require much colder storage temperatures.

“We just don’t know what that might mean that we would need for storage of the vaccine,” Moritz said. “It will really depend on what we receive. … There’s some of those things that there’s just too many questions on how some of these items might come to know and plan for what all I might need for supplies to go along with it.”

Similar mass vaccination preparations took place in 2009 in Crow Wing County during the outbreak of H1N1.

COVID-19 data as of Sept. 22

  • Aitkin — 76 (+7 since Friday, Sept. 18), with one death.

  • Cass — 134 (+11), with three deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 444 (+34), with 18 deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 152 (+16), with three deaths.

  • Morrison — 213 (+23), with one death.

  • Todd — 481 (+9), with two deaths.

  • Wadena — 67 (+6).

NOTE: These numbers are cumulative since March 21 and many are out of isolation. The number of those no longer needing isolation is not reported on a county-level basis by the state.