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COVID-19 case, clarity on executive order prompts sobriety club closure

The board learned Monday of the positive COVID-19 test result in a member who was last present at the building Thursday, April 2. Bjorklund stated the member and their spouse are both currently hospitalized, but seem to be doing OK.

A member of the Lakes Area Alano Association "who frequents the club often" on Highway 210 in Baxter tested positive for COVID-19. A notice on the door of the building posted Monday, April 6, suggests people adhere to social distancing rules and use common sense. Tuesday afternoon, the organization's board decided to close the building until it's safe to reopen. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The board of the Lakes Area Alano Association decided Tuesday, April 7, to close the organization’s doors to the public.

Board members were already grappling with whether to remain open in light of the positive COVID-19 diagnosis of a club member, but further guidance Tuesday noting in-person sobriety support meetings are not an exempted activity under Gov. Tim Walz’s stay at home order prompted decisive action.

Board Chairman Chris Bjorklund said the club originally was told by county and state health officials it was exempted from the order, falling under a broad umbrella of addiction resources. But in consulting with Crow Wing County Public Health Tuesday, Bjorklund said they learned a frequently asked questions list on the governor’s website clarified Alcoholics Anonymous and other sobriety support meetings are not permitted to continue.

“It’s really hard to get a straight answer,” Bjorklund said by phone Tuesday. “I did get forwarded by the sheriff’s department to the Crow Wing County health department … and apparently he’s changed what’s essential and what’s not essential, and AA as of the last couple days has not been considered essential. So a lot of clubs statewide are shutting down. So with that news and obviously the one confirmed case we’ve had, we are going to be shut down and closing this afternoon, and reopening when we deem it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”

Bjorklund said the board learned Monday of the positive COVID-19 test result in a member who was last present at the building Thursday, April 2. Bjorklund stated the member and their spouse are both currently hospitalized, but seem to be doing OK. Shortly after the confirmation, signs were posted informing attendees. A note was also published on the organization’s website.


“There has been a confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus in LAAA (Lakes Area Alano Association) by one of our prominent members who frequents the club often,” Monday’s post stated. “While the Board has decided to keep the club open for the time being, please be aware of this situation and take the necessary precautions. If you do choose to attend a meeting here, please abide by the LAAA Board guidelines outlined a few weeks back.”

Those guidelines followed those set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on social distancing, hand washing and cleaning, along with additional guidelines more specific to recovery meetings. Some of those included avoiding holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer, not bringing in outside food to share with others and emptying the garbages inside the club once daily.

Bjorklund said the club was already implementing best practices and those continued to be followed after the positive case came to light.

“What we’re doing is we’re disinfecting all the chairs and the tables within the club and the books that are used and stuff like that. We do that every day, after every session, since this COVID-19 thing came through,” Bjorklund said.

Concerns about closure’s impact

While club leaders said they’re honoring the order as it’s now being interpreted, they expressed concerns about what the closure means for many in recovery, particularly those who are newly sober.

“My biggest concern is for the drug and DUI court people,” said Abigail Faas, vice chair of the board. “They initially were the ones that were crying out, like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ … It was the only thing they have to hold them sober, besides phone calls. Even like Perkins (Restaurant) and all those fellowship things they were doing to stay sober, it’s all closed.”

Paul Ruff, who attends meetings at the club three or four times a week, said personal interaction is a major part of many peoples’ ability to maintain sobriety, and virtual or phone meetings might not work as well for them.

“Speaking from an alcoholic’s standpoint, it seems to me that for every person who is adamant about wanting the doors closed, there’s another person who’s just as concerned about keeping the doors open,” Ruff said. “Especially, for a lot of people, because the governor said liquor stores were an essential part of our lives in this day and age and there’s a lot of people who took some offense to that. And maybe the alcoholic or the addict would have no place to turn to.”


Minnesota family physicians urged the state government to keep liquor stores open, in part to prevent those in active addiction from potentially needing hospitalization due to withdrawals while medical resources are being directed toward the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s office is encouraging sobriety support groups to provide virtual meetings or meetings by telephone for members, and Bjorklund and Faas said they would also inform local participants to take part in some of those resources. Bjorklund said they would look into organizing virtual or phone meetings based locally, although he noted he was concerned about potential technical difficulties for those members who are less confident in their technological skills.

County Administrator Tim Houle said he instructed county employees to reach out to local sobriety organizations to tell leaders the county is willing to cover the cost of Zoom memberships for them. Houle said one of the county’s core functions is in addressing chemical dependency, so covering those costs would be an extension of those efforts. Faas said she hadn’t yet heard of this offer but it was something the club was willing to consider.

UpFront Alano Club

Another sobriety support meeting club in Brainerd, UpFront Alano, released a statement late Tuesday night that it, too, would be closed until further notice to comply with Walz’s stay-at-home order.


The governor’s office provided the following resources to learn more about accessing remote sobriety support.

Alcoholics Anonymous:

Narcotics Anonymous:

  • Resources on finding and participating in virtual meetings.

  • Resources on virtual meetings in Minnesota .

Other resources:


CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

A notice on the front door of the Lakes Area Alano Association club on Highway 210 in Baxter Tuesday, April 7, outlines several measures the club was taking to minimize infection risk of COVID-19 and informs attendees that a member of the club who spends a lot of time in the building tested positive for the disease. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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