With the situation changing and developing day by day, local officials have taken steps to support national efforts to slow the advance of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

As of Tuesday, March 17, there were 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus (with zero deaths) in Minnesota, up from nine cases on March 12. None of those cases were found in Pine County. 

In the United States there were 4,556 cases with 85 deaths. In the world, 181,000 coronavirus cases and more than 7,100 deaths were reported, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The country of Italy has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with 27,980 cases and 2,158 deaths. By March 17, the number of serious cases was exceeding the capability of hospitals to treat them.

Few aspects of life in Pine City and across the country and world have not been affected by the pandemic and the efforts to bring it under control. 

Slow the spread

On Monday, March 16, The U.S. Center for Disease Control and the White House offered the following guidelines under a program called “15 Days to Slow the Spread.”

• If you feel sick, stay home. Do not go to work. Contact your medical provider. 

• If someone in your household has tested positive for coronavirus, keep the entire household at home. 

• If you are an older person or have a serious underlying health condition, stay home and away from other people

• Avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people.

• Avoid eating and drinking in bars, restaurants etc. Use drive through, pick up or delivery options. 

• Avoid discretionary travel. 

• Do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance. 

• Wash hands often and thoroughly. 

• Avoid touching your face. 

• Sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of your elbow.  

• Disinfect items and surfaces frequently.

Americans were asked to maintain social distancing – keeping at least six feet from others – as much as possible, and to follow the recommendations of state and local officials.

President Trump also urged Americans to avoid hoarding, and purchase items as needed for the week ahead. 

“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said. “Take it easy. Just relax.”

Pine City schools closing

On March 13, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order closing all Minnesota schools to students from Wednesday, March 18 through Friday, March 27 in response to the pandemic. 

Pine City Public Schools ran through their normal school day schedule on March 16-17. Starting on Wednesday school staff worked on developing distance-learning materials for future use.  

School officials will issue updates and information regarding school operations for when students return to their studies on March 30.

“Many of these actions are unprecedented in most of our experiences,” said Pine County School Superintendent Curt Tryggestad. “We will do our best to keep you notified as we navigate the 

coming weeks.”

The school district plans to continue to offer education, support and nutrition to students in the weeks and months ahead. Look for more on this in next week’s Pine City Pioneer.

Temporary business closings –  but Food delivery, curbside pick-up services still allowed

With the CDC directive to avoid social gatherings of 10 or more, Governor Tim Walz ordered that bars, restaurants and other gathering places be closed from  March 17 until March 27 at 5 p.m. These businesses include: 

• Restaurants, cafes, coffeehouses and other places offering food or beverage for on-premises consumption. (This excludes institutional and in-house food cafeterias for businesses, hospitals, and long-term care facilities). However, delivery and curbside takeout services for food are permitted.

• Bars, taverns, brew pubs, wineries and other places that offer alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption;

• Theaters, cinemas, museums, and indoor and outdoor performance venues; 

• Gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoors sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities, exercise studios, and spas;

• Arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing facilities, skating rinks, trampoline parks, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities;

• Facilities of country clubs, golf clubs, boating or yacht clubs, sports or athletic clubs, and dining clubs.

Retail stores remain open

Walmart and other retail stores offering necessary goods and supplies will remain open. Walmart stores have changed their hours, and will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice. According to Walmart, this will help ensure associates can clean and stock products. 

Speedway and other retailers have issued press releases stating that they are taking increased precautions, including steps to disinfect surfaces and public areas regularly during the pandemic. 

Minnesota health guidelines for COVID-19

 According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza spreads. It can also spread when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.

Providers should inform all patients with undiagnosed fever and/or acute respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath), even those not able to be tested, that they should self-quarantine for seven days after illness onset, or 72 hours after resolution of fever (without taking fever-reducing medications), and improvement of respiratory symptoms, whichever is longer. Patients should seek care if their symptoms become severe. They should call ahead to health provider when possible.

Patients with symptoms who are not able to be tested should isolate themselves from household and intimate contacts as much as possible. Household and intimate contacts of these individuals should limit their activities in public for 14 days after the incorporating precautions in the home, and monitor for symptoms.

People who have suspect or known cases of COVID-19, but who are not severely ill, should stay home while they recover. If they have severe underlying health conditions or are older adults should contact their health care provider to see if they have additional recommendations for them. If someone develops severe symptoms they should call ahead to their health care provider if possible prior to seeking care.

City of Pine City actions

Pine City plans to close its offices to personal visits by members of the public, but staff will be available to take phone calls at 320-629-2575 and respond to email requests. 

All non-essential meetings will be canceled or rescheduled. 

Pine City Administrator Matthew Van Steenwyk said that the city-operated Voyageur Bottle Shop would remain open. He also indicated that the city would not shut off water to any residence during the pandemic. 

• General questions: info@pinecitygov.com

• Utility Billing questions: ldunbar@pinecitygov.com

• City Administrator: mvansteenwyk@pinecitygov.com

• Planning and Zoning: lsauter@pinecitygov.com

• Building Official: andy@rumrivercc.com

• Fire Chief: pcfd@pinecitygov.com      

Additional contacts and information can be found at: https://pinecity.govoffice.com/

This social isolation effort is designed to protect the health of the municipal workforce as well as our most vulnerable community members.

Additional updates will be posted on the City of Pine City website and Facebook page as they become available. More in next week’s issue of the Pine City Pioneer.

Pine County government actions

Pine County government has implemented policies and practices to conform to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health.

• County government offices will remain during open regular business hours. To the extent possible, everyone is encouraged to conduct business via telephone or online rather than in person. In person visits should only be used in cases that are absolutely necessary.

• Most county public meetings and events are cancelled. Please check the county website (www.co.pine.mn.us) or call 320-591-1400 if you are uncertain about a meeting or a county event.

• The county has implemented a telework policy and flexible work schedule for employees to work remotely if possible.

• On-site inmate visitation to Pine County Jail is suspended until further notice. People may use online telephone and texting services at RelianceTelephone.com or use the Use the Inmate Message line at 320-629-0052. They may also send letters via U.S. Postage Service to:

Pine County Jail

Inmate Name

635 Northridge Drive NW

Suite 130

Pine City, MN 55063

• Many court cases have been postponed while pandemic restrictions are in place. For information related to Pine County District Court, contact the district court directly

Churches adapt to pandemic

Due to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for limiting the spread of COVID-19, some churches have either canceled their normal services and other events or gone to an online 

broadcast. It is recommended to contact your individual church for information regarding any changes to their schedules. Find contact information for area churches on Page 13 of the Pioneer.

On the evening of March 17, a prayer meeting was held by the Pine City Evangelical Free Church in the Lighthouse parking lot, where visitors were encouraged to join their neighbors and pray while remaining in their own vehicles. 

No cost for COVID-19 testing for Minnesotans enrolled through MNsure

All four medical insurance companies that sell private health insurance plans on MNsure are waiving co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles related to Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) diagnostic testing. Minnesotans who are enrolled in those plans will have no costs associated with medically directed testing in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control guidance.

MNsure encourages consumers to contact their insurance company directly for questions about plan benefit details and how best to access care.

Minnesotans with questions about COVID-19 should refer to the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control for the most current information on the status of the virus in Minnesota and recommendations for preparedness planning.

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline: 651-201-3920 available M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Health care providers take steps

• Essentia Health is postponing all routine appointments and elective procedures for two weeks, beginning Wednesday, March 18. The decision affects appointments and elective procedures scheduled at any Essentia hospital or clinic from March 18 to April 1. Decisions about appointments and procedures after April 1 will be made later.

• Welia Health issued a press release stating that it is “prepared to take care of the communities it serves.” Changes to waiting rooms, events and support groups have already occurred.  They will provide updates at www.weliahealth.org and via social media as they become available.  

• To protect patients, M Health Fairview locations enforce visitor restrictions year round. Due to community spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota, they are taking additional precautionary steps :

- No visitors are allowed on our hospital and clinic campuses. Patients are encouraged to work with their care team to find other ways to connect with their loved ones. Exceptions will be made for compassionate care. Also, pediatrics and labor and delivery may have one adult visitor at a time. 

- If necessary, one legal guardian (who passes screening) may escort a patient to their clinic appointment.

- Individuals who are sick and not seeking care or have known exposure to COVID-19 are not allowed to visit.

Libraries closed

In accordance with the Governor’s recommendation to enact social distancing measure, all classes, programs and events sponsored by East Central Regional Library have been canceled, and all libraries will remain closed until further notice. 

PTCC moves to distance learning

The colleges and universities of Minnesota State have extended spring break for an additional week. Beginning Monday, March 23, classes at Pine Technical and Community College will resume via distance delivery models of education or in special circumstances, in-person with consideration for “social distancing.” 

 All college-related out-of-state travel for students, faculty and staff is suspended. Also, all college-related events totaling more than 100 attendees are cancelled through May 1.

More information and directions will be communicated via email and will be posted on the PTCC website as needed.

All faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to heed the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Health, and in particular, stay home when sick, cover your cough, and practice good hand hygiene.

Stay up to date via Pine’s COVID-19 website: https://www.pine.edu/about/coronavirus.

COMMUNITY EVENTS SHUT DOWN

Nearly all social community events in the Pine City have been canceled or rescheduled (see the ‘Out & About’ calendar on Page 3 of the Pine City Pioneer for more details). One such event was the  Pine City Heritage Players performance of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” which was scheduled to run March 19-22. After the final rehearsal, first-time director Nick Basta wrote this to the cast and crew: 

“For over a decade I’ve watched directors give inspiring opening night speeches. And over the last decade I’ve dreamed of what my first opening night speech as a director would be like. This wasn’t it. The world outside this theater is one that we couldn’t have imagined a week ago. Our lives are rapidly changing, and while the theatre for centuries has stood as an escape from the outside world, sometimes we must deal with reality... Thank you for this adventure. I’m so grateful for all of you. And hope we can all come together again soon.”

Grand Casino Hinckley closed

Grand Casino has announced a voluntary, temporary closure of operations at Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley starting March 16 to help fight the spread of COVID-19. The initial plan is for a 14-day closure, but conditions will be reassessed before a firm reopen date is announced. 

 As a part of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures’ Adopt-a-School program, the casinos will provide lunch to students in need who attend public schools in Onamia, Isle, Hinckley-Finlayson, McGregor, and Nay Ah Shing lower and upper schools, as well as the Mille Lacs Band community.

During the temporary closure, the casinos will continue to pay both salaried and hourly positions. Both properties will also undergo an intense cleaning process to further protect guests and associates upon reopening. 

More at www.grandcasinomn.com and the casino’s Facebook page.

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