In-person contact in Crow Wing County’s child support unit was suspended recently due to a positive COVID-19 case and the county’s senior managers determined they would return to a virtual format for meetings.

These are two recent impacts to county government as the growth in new confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus among residents continues on an escalated path. County Administrator Tim Houle noted while in the spring he was worried about the potential contribution to case growth by seasonal residents and summer tourists, that didn’t materialize. But as locals begin spending more time indoors headed into the winter season, Houle said the case spike is driven by community spread.

The most recent figures peg the county at approximately 29 new cases per 10,000 residents in the previous two weeks — data used to help guide school districts in making decisions about hybrid or distance learning models. The total number of cases recorded has exactly doubled in the past month, from 373 reported Sept. 13 to 746 reported Tuesday.

“So it is concerning to us as we watch the 14-day case count per 10,000 residents,” Houle told the board Tuesday, Oct. 13. “We’re seeing the impacts on that in our community, too, aren’t we? Schools that are closing, businesses that are impacted. And so it’s important that we continue to monitor what’s going on because of the disruption to our community — to families trying to provide day care when their school closed without a lot of notice, people that are trying to get to work because they need their kids taken care of and historically that would be school, businesses that are having to close their doors because people are testing positive.

“ … Essentially, this is local. And so how well we contain this will depend on how well we act as it relates to others. And that’s just simply what we know. We don’t want that case count to grow any higher and we are reacting to that.”

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Houle said it may turn out the county’s campus closure this spring was a dry run for the months ahead, but he said county officials would like to proceed with the “most surgical approach” in responding to COVID-19. Suspending in-person contact in one division is an example of narrowing the scope of impact, rather than closing the doors to community services in its entirety, Houle said. Splitting the county workforce with the most public contact into two groups to limit potential spread may be another approach implemented in the months ahead.

“We will try our darndest not to lock all of Crow Wing County’s doors again,” Houle said. “We were still open for business, we know we can do it that way if we have to do it that way, but we would prefer not to.”

The board voted 4-1 Sept. 8 to reopen meetings to the public after several months of limiting in-person access. Tuesday, there were a number of people in attendance beyond the county employees who typically are present. At least one member of the public remained unmasked for the duration of the hours-long meeting and social distancing was not consistently practiced. Houle said after the meeting there may need to be additional measures in place in the boardroom to ensure proper distance is maintained.

Commissioner Paul Koering, who attended the meeting virtually via video conference from his home, said he wanted to encourage other county board members to do research on recent information from the World Health Organization. Koering said the organization changed its position on lockdowns because of the negative consequences.

“I haven’t read the whole thing, but they are starting to change their position about locking down and they think it’s actually having a worse effect, especially on poor people,” Koering said. “I still say I think we’re going to look back a year or two from now and I think this lockdown is going to have such an effect, not only economically but mental health-wise on people. … I don’t exactly know what to think about this, but I will say when the World Health Organization is saying that they do not advocate lockdowns as a primary means of controlling the virus, I think we need to start listening to that.”

The information to which Koering referred was a recent statement by Dr. David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 to the World Health Organization, who told the British magazine The Spectator the organization does not advocate lockdowns as the “primary means of control of this virus.” While presented by President Donald Trump in a tweet Tuesday as a reversal in the organization’s stance, a fact check by the Associated Press noted this has been the position since March.

“Since declaring the coronavirus a pandemic in March, WHO has said that if countries decide to go into lockdown, it should be considered temporary and they should use the time to implement measures like testing, tracing, informing local populations and promoting physical distancing,” the Associated Press wrote.

Crow Wing County bar tied to 10 cases

Contact tracing has revealed a common link in 10 COVID-19 cases among Crow Wing County residents, and that link is the Woodtick Inn in Cuyuna.

County officials confirmed the location is associated with 10 cases designated as a community outbreak. A person who answered the phone at the Woodtick Inn, who declined to be identified, said the business was closed for approximately nine days during which the building was sanitized. The exact dates of the closure were not provided and while the bar was recently short-staffed, according to the business representative, it was not clear whether any employees were among those who tested positive.

COVID-19 Data as of Oct. 13

  • Aitkin — 123 (+12 since Friday, Oct. 9), with one death.

  • Cass — 261 (+14), with three deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 746 (+45), with 20 (+2) deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 268 (+48), with three deaths.

  • Morrison — 444 (+47), with one death.

  • Todd — 605 (+36), with two deaths.

  • Wadena — 131 (+20).

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.