“We just need to step up.”
Hutchinson Health President Jim Lyons implored Hutchinson residents to take COVID-19 precautions seriously when Mayor Gary Forcier invited him to speak at the Tuesday, Nov. 10, City Council meeting.
Lyons said 1,200 people were hospitalized in Minnesota that day, double the number from two weeks ago, with the state now averaging 4,400 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed per day. That’s a climb of 142% in a week. Case numbers have continued to ramp up since then, with 8,689 new cases announced Nov. 15, and another 7,553 new cases announced Nov. 16.
“In McLeod County, we have on average 32 cases daily right now,” Lyons said. “That’s up from 13 one week ago.”
Hutchinson Health saw one to two patients per day for the past few months.
“Now we’re at four-five COVID patients on average per day in the hospital,” he said. “We’re doing more COVID tests per day than at any other time this year. Positivity rate was running at 5-6% at the end of October. It’s now running 27-32%. It’s here, folks. It’s in our community. It’s real and it is a public health issue. It’s not a political issue.”
Lyons said the biggest challenge is the number of beds available, with statewide availability of ICU beds sometimes down to single digits lately. Just because hospitals are dealing with COVID-19 doesn’t mean other health issues stop. Hospitals are starting to make hard choices about putting off other medical care patients need, which could lead to larger issues down the road.
As of Monday morning, McLeod County had recorded 1,376 COVID-19 cases and six deaths.
Following the meeting, Forcier took to Facebook to encourage Hutchinson residents to take precautions.
“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate through our community,” he said. “If we do not follow public health guidelines, we risk not being able to treat things like heart disease, car accidents and other regular medical needs in Hutchinson.”
He asked all members of the community to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by canceling in-person gatherings with those outside their household, and by wearing a mask whenever near people from outside the household.
“The guidelines from the state and the Department of Health are extremely important and should be followed,” Forcier said.
Wearing masks and following other guidelines is not just for the elderly or at-risk populations.
“Pick an age, 25, 30, and you say, ‘I’ll survive this if I get it,’” Lyons said. “You’re kind of missing the point. The point is you are moving this around through the community as you are moving through the community. So your choice not to wear a mask, not to socially distance, to gather with friends, is allowing it to spread to friends, and they go visit family members or other people.”
If Minnesotans do not take health guidelines more seriously, Lyons predicts COVID-19 infection rates will double again. He is also concerned about medical personnel, and asked residents to take responsibility for their role in the safety of those workers.
“These people are in the community,” Lyons said. “They are in our restaurants. They are going to the grocery store. They are going to the liquor store. ... And if you’re not wearing a mask, you are exposing them and you are potentially risking their ability to be at work to care for you or your loved one when you need them.”
GET TESTED, STAY HOME
Anyone who feels they may be at risk, exposed or presenting symptoms should schedule a video appointment with the hospital and then be tested. Lyons told City Council that hospital staff often hear from patients in digital visits that they have had to stay at work.
“If you think you need to be tested, you should be able to do that without exposing other people, and until you know your result, you should be staying at home and quarantining,” Lyons said. “It will require us to follow the guidance we have had all along.”
Masks should be worn over the mouth and nose while also maintaining social distancing of a minimum of 6 feet apart from others. Sanitizing and hand washing remain critical.
“I’ve lost a family member to COVID,” Lyons said. “I’ve been there when we’ve lost people at the hospital. We become numb to the statistics when we hear them on the nightly news every night: 230,000 people have died in this country in the last seven months.”
The COVID-19 situation in McLeod County is rapidly changing and Hutchinson Public Schools have made plans to keep up.
Changes were announced last week to move all secondary students to distance learning starting Monday, Nov. 16. All elementary students began hybrid learning Monday, Nov. 16, and they will move to full distance learning Monday, Nov. 30.
At the Nov. 9 School Board meeting, Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden reported the district had 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students — three at the elementary level and nine at the secondary level. Three staff were confirmed to have COVID-19. As a result of those cases and other cases in the community, 200 students and 28 staff have been quarantined as a precaution. VanderHeiden said the quarantine numbers are comparable to other districts.
The quarantine of staff has made it challenging for the school to maintain sufficient substitute teachers.
“If that number continues, it will even be more of a challenge where we might not be able to provide all the services we need,” VanderHeiden said.
In recent weeks, McLeod County Health and Human Services has anticipated a spike in local COVID-19 cases and believes the trend will continue. On Nov. 16, the county reached 1,376 cases. A week prior there were 1,080 cases, up from 755 cases a week before then.
The school district has been tracking the climb as well, and watching the county’s 14-day new case rate per 10,000 residents. The state uses this model to advise schools on which learning model is most appropriate. New 14-day case rates are released by the state every Thursday, but they always reflect rates from two weeks prior. Schools are directed to use more cautious models — including a hybrid model with half the student body learning from home, and complete digital learning from home — as the number increases.
On Nov. 5, the county’s rate was 18.14. On Nov. 12 it reached 40.47. With a rate of 40, schools are usually advised to move secondary students to distance learning, and elementary students to hybrid learning. With a rate above 50, schools are usually advised to have complete distance learning.
VanderHeiden told board members current data showed the Nov. 19 rate could be between 80 and 100, and beyond that it was unknown.
“We were one of the shining stars in Minnesota with one of the lowest rates, now three weeks later we’re toward the top,” VanderHeiden said.
SCHOOL ACTIVITIES CONTINUE
With schools switching to distance learning, it brings questions regarding other school activities such as fall and winter sports.
“As of right now, the plan is to keep moving forward with everything we have scheduled,” said Activities Director Thayne Johnson.
He said the school will follow safety and crowd guidelines, and that the Minnesota State High School League offered additional guidance for winter sports safety.
“Every indication we’ve received from the State High School League is they plan to continue winter seasons,” Johnson said.
Recent safety changes announced by the governor did not include school sports.
Experience is important for a lot of businesses. People are more likely to trust an experienced mechanic when they need their car fixed, or an experienced doctor when they are having health problems.
When it comes to picking hairdressers, experience is equally as important. Thanks to COVID-19, patrons at Tangles Salon and Spa in Hutchinson know they are benefitting from more than 246 years of combined knowledge.
Six seasoned hairdressers work in the cozy salon on Second Avenue Southeast, each with decades of experience under their aprons: Bev Czmowski, 50 years; Val Severson, 34 years; Deborah Heilman, 50 years; Beth Fruetel, 32 years; Chris Carrigan, 31 years; and Debi Decker, 47 years.
While they’ve all worked with each other at one time or another, especially at Barberettes on State Highway 7, this is the first time all six have been under one roof, and it’s all because of the pandemic.
Following the closure of Barberettes in February, Fruetel and Heilman began working at the salon at Ecumen Oaks and Pines. After just a few days, though, they were no longer allowed back in the assisted living facility as the state began to go into lockdown. That’s when they made a call to Severson, the owner of Tangles.
“I knew them and I had room for it, so I said fine,” Severson said. “I thought they were going to be here temporarily, but now it’s a little more than temporarily. But they can be here as long as they have to.”
The two new additions also thought the change would only be temporary.
“I thought a month at the most, or a couple weeks,” Heilman said.
But as the pandemic has worn on and Ecumen Oaks and Pines still has not reopened its salon to the public, the pair are grateful for Tangles, as are their customers.
“They were appreciative to be wherever we were, as long as they could be somewhere,” Fruetel said.
The addition of two new hairdressers has been an easy transition for the group that was already there as well.
“We all just get along great,” Severson said. “There are never any issues. I think it’s unbelievable how well we get along.”
“Everything is just into a routine,” Decker said. “They have their clients, everybody shares together, they share knowledge, they share space, we work together as a team.”
That shared knowledge and experience is also a great benefit for the hairdressers, as well as their clients. Not only are they able to ask each other questions, they’re also able to share clients with each other if someone is not available.
“I think it’s more comfortable because you can ask some questions,” Carrigan said, “or people take different classes, especially with the different generations, I think it’s nice you have everybody and different experiences to ask questions.”
And when it comes to cleanliness and following state restrictions, the women at Tangles say their clients have been very understanding about having to wear masks. As far as social distancing and cleaning goes, the salon is spacious enough to allow several of the hairdressers and their clients in the building at one time, and the adjustment hasn’t been too difficult.
“We go over the rules pretty good,” Czmowski said. “Our sanitation hasn’t change a whole lot, because actually hairdressers do it anyway. Just a couple things have changed, and it’s not been a big deal.”
Bars and restaurants, wedding receptions and social gatherings are the targets of new restrictions Gov. Tim Walz announced last week.
“We are in the midst of a significant surge,” Walz said, citing rising COVID-19 case numbers.
Minnesota has seen about 224,000 cases and 2,961 deaths since the outbreak began. State health officials announced 7,553 new cases Monday morning and 8,689 the day before. Recent death counts are regularly in the double digits, according to state data.
Walz said that during previous national spikes, Minnesota was able to maintain lower infection rates than other states due to safety measures taken by residents. But during the most recent outbreak, data shows Minnesota is trending in a manner similar to other hot spots.
“That type of spread will continue unless we take mitigation measures,” Walz said.
Taking measures now, he argued, will make sure there are sufficient hospital beds to deal with COVID and other illnesses, such as during the upcoming flu season, and keep the state ahead of staffing concerns as health workers become infected.
The venues targeted in the determination are meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 where it is most often transmitted. Since June, 71 percent of spreading cases have been at private social gatherings, weddings, funerals, restaurants and bars. Risk factors identified include gatherings of friends and family who are comfortable with each other, but live in different households, eating and drinking without face coverings for an extended period of time, and gatherings where people talk loudly, laugh or sing, especially with alcohol.
Walz noted that while Minnesotans age 18-35 have taken proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they appear to be the age group most commonly infected as many do not show symptoms and are contagious. Such individuals are at high risk of passing COVID-19 to vulnerable groups, and are the most frequent visitors to bars and restaurants.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Starting Friday, Nov. 13, bars and restaurants were limited to 50 percent capacity and all indoor capacity was capped at 150 people. Dine-in service is prohibited 10 p.m.-4 a.m. Bar counter service is not permitted unless that is the only place for service.
Walz acknowledged bars and restaurants have already sacrificed much due to COVID-19 and encouraged Minnesotans to support those businesses.
“This is going to be painful for them,” he said.
He is proposing $10 million in small business relief.
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Director Steve Grove said the precautions are necessary for the economy in the long term.
“We can’t begin economic recovery in a real sense until we get this pandemic under control,” he said.
A 50-person limit will be placed on wedding and funeral receptions, and similar events, starting Nov. 27. The limit will shift to 25 people on Dec. 11.
“The data shows a bunch of our outbreaks are coming from these types of activities,” Walz said.
He said there will be no change to weddings and funerals, as the data shows those events have not caused significant problems.
A 10-person limit was placed on indoor and outdoor private gatherings as of Friday, Nov. 13. All social gatherings are limited to members of three households or fewer.
Hutchinson Police have taken an education-first position when it comes to the enforcement of previous state mandates, and Police Chief Tom Gifferson said Tuesday that trend would continue.
“When that 10 p.m. mandate comes to shut down the bars and restaurants, we’ll probably take a little bit more of an active enforcement role by reminding them to be closed,” he said. “And if they flat out refuse to close, we’d probably take some more enforcement action at that time.”
Police will also have rules to enforce when it comes to private gatherings.
“In my mind, if we get called to a home where they are having a social gathering or a party, and clearly there are more people than there should be, and it’s not Thanksgiving dinner or something like that, we’ll probably take some action,” Gifferson said. “But it’s not our role to go in and tell people they can’t have the fourth child over for Thanksgiving or something like that.”
In a press release, Marilyn Peitso, Minnesota Medical Association president, said, “The governor’s action will help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the health and lives of all Minnesotans. We are seeing, first-hand, the rapid spike in COVID-19 cases. These are not just statistics, but rather these are our patients, health care professionals, our teachers, our family members, our fellow Minnesotans.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt was less pleased with the announcement.
“These restrictions are another hit to Minnesota bars and restaurants, many of whom have been doing everything the right way to protect the health and safety of their guests and employees,” he said in a statement. “We’re very concerned for the impact this will have on these businesses owners and their hardworking employees.”