Hubbard County continues to have no confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of Friday.

CHI St. Joseph’s Community Health Director Marlee Morrison told the Hubbard County Board on Tuesday, “The counties surrounding us continue to report new cases.”

Morrison monitors the state reporting system so she can see when a case appears in Hubbard County.

As for health care preparedness, she said, “From the hospital perspective, they feel our current supply of (personal protective equipment) PPE is adequate. St. Joseph’s is starting to reopen some outpatient and elective services at reduced capacities, so staff and patient safety can be provided for. That involves monitoring the PPE supply as services reopen.”

Morrison continued, “As the state, the community and the hospital reopen services, we are watching and monitoring closely COVID activity and the hospital is prepared to dial back elective services if there’s a surge.”

Models suggest that Minnesota has not yet seen the peak of this disease, she said, based on information from the Minnesota Hospitals Association and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). “The peak is currently projected in Minnesota anywhere from late June to early September.”

From a community health standpoint, Morrison said, “We continue to encourage individuals to be cautious. Safety measures, like source-control masking when in public and social distancing, are still what we need to slow the spread of the disease.”

County commissioner Tom Krueger asked how testing in Hubbard County compares to neighboring counties.

Testing for symptomatic individuals or those potentially exposed to COVID-19 is available through Essentia Health and Sanford Health.

Morrison said it’s hard to parse out exactly who is getting tested from each county because both of these health care systems serve multiple counties. “But we have the same access to testing as all of our surrounding counties,” she said.

County commissioner Dan Stacey asked if National Guard teams of 10 would be testing long-term care facilities.

Morrison said a testing initiative started rolling out last week. Long-term care facilities are being asked to fill out a state survey indicating their readiness for testing, then the state will prioritize facilities, she explained. Focus is on those already with an outbreak or in areas with community spread of COVID-19. The National Guard may or may not be involved, she added.

“Any time you test more, you’re going to see more positive cases. That’s what we’re seeing in the state now anyways,” Morrison said.

Board chair Char Christenson asked about how those with underlying conditions are being listed as COVID-19 deaths.

According to the MDH website, 809 people have died from COVID-19, as of Thursday. Another nine are listed as “probable COVID-19 deaths.” MDH explains that “probable COVID-19 deaths have COVID-19 listed on the death certificate, but a positive test was not documented for the person. Because there was no positive test, these individuals are not included in total positive cases.”

Morrison explained that COVID-19 might be listed as “comorbidity” because it contributed to the cause of death for someone with multiple diagnoses and the person wouldn’t have passed away without the co-infection of COVID-19.

County commissioner David De La Hunt asked about the local health care’s capacity and contingency plan if there is an outbreak in the county. He also inquired about the plan if there is an infection in long-term, skilled nursing facilities.

All health care providers must follow state guidelines, stock a certain amount of PPE and have a surge plan, Morrison said. Infections are being monitored daily by the state so that hospitals may be alerted.

“Say there is an outbreak at a large employer, how is that handled?” De La Hunt asked.

First, Morrison said there would be contact tracing. “We have a nurse who is training to be a contact tracer,” she noted. “Then it’s isolation. Everyone who has been in contact with the infected person will be asked to quarantine and told they have been exposed.”

Protocols are in place for workplaces with a COVID-19 case, such as deep cleaning.

At a long-term care facility, Morrison explained that an infected individual would be assigned one caretaker and everyone in the facility would be tested.

CHI St. Joseph’s has a 25-bed capacity. There is a 5-bed ICU, with four or five ventilators, she noted. In a surge, the hospital could double the ICU beds and ventilators. “So it’s still a really small capacity,” Morrison said.

De La Hunt asked what would happen if the number of COVID-19 cases exceeds the hospital’s capacity.

Morrison said CHI St. Joseph's Health has a regional plan to work with neighboring providers. Alternative health care providers have been identified, she said, “but that is considered a last resort. They won’t be up and running until they need to be.”

Hubbard County Emergency Manager Brian Halbasch reported that he received PPE from the state: 800 surgical masks, 50 N95 masks and 250 pairs of gloves.

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