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Health care leaders share COVID-19 pandemic updates

They urge people to be patient, to get vaccinated and to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice good hygiene.

Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County Public Health supervisor, talks about the status of COVID-19 and vaccines Wednesday, March 3, during a Cuyuna Area Connections virtual learning opportunity. Echo Journal Screenshot / Nancy Vogt

One year after “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “pandemic” became everyday household words, there is good news to share.

  • The number of people in the lakes area with COVID-19, which as a reminder is the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, has declined.

  • Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have decreased.

  • All three varieties of COVID-19 vaccine are being administered in the lakes area, and the priority groups were just expanded Tuesday, March 9.

But danger remains.
COVID-19 numbers and vaccine guidelines are constantly changing, so area health care leaders continue to urge people to remain patient, to get vaccinated when they can and to continue to wear masks, follow social distancing guidelines and practice good hygiene.

“We get new information, it seems, on a daily basis,” Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County Public Health supervisor, said Wednesday, March 3, during a Cuyuna Area Connections virtual learning opportunity about the COVID-19 status in Crow Wing County.

"We get new information, it seems, on a daily basis."

— Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County Public Health supervisor.


Health care leaders from Essentia Health, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby and Lakewood Health System in Staples weighed in Friday, March 5, during the annual Crow Wing Energized Health and Wellness Summit, which was held virtually.

Dr. Peter Henry, Essentia Health chief medical officer, said progress is being made on the COVID-19 front; however, only about 15% of the population nationwide and in Minnesota has been vaccinated so a large number of people remain susceptible.

Also, COVID-19 vaccines are effective, but not 100%, as is no vaccine, Henry said. People who have been vaccinated may still contract a mild case of COVID-19 and still transmit it to others.

So it’s still important for people to wear masks, social distance and practice good hygiene that includes washing their hands, Henry said.

“We’re getting there. But we have a long ways to go to get our population vaccinated to eradicate the virus,” he said.

Speaking to COVID-19 fatigue, Tim Houle, Crow Wing County administrator, said at the wellness summit that every one likely has that fatigue.

“The problem is that while I’m tired of COVID, COVID’s not tired of me,” he said.

Numbers are changing constantly, but as of Tuesday, March 9, Crow Wing County had reported 5,241 cases of COVID-19 and 82 deaths.


”Currently we have not a whole ton, not quite100 cases currently active, where individuals tested positive and are still in the isolation period,” Moritz said. “The good news right now, we’re seeing about six to 10 new cases a day, give or take, which is a good place to be compared to back in November when we were seeing 150 new cases per day.”

Cass County had reported 2,233 cases of COVID-19 and 24 deaths as of Tuesday.

"The problem is that while I'm tired of COVID, COVID's not tired of me."

— Tim Houle, Crow Wing County administrator.

Moritz encourages people to visit the Minnesota Department of Health website for the most current and up-to-date information on COVID-19. The MDH recommends the priority order of people eligible for the vaccine based on federal priorities, and it determines which providers will get vaccine shipments and when.

“This has been a great rollout, I think, of vaccine,” Moritz said. “But it’s always the case where we don’t get enough vaccine right off the bat. We’re trying to meet the demand, but we still don’t have the amounts of vaccine. And we’re going off priority order. We have demand from people who want the vaccine, but they’re not in the priority group.”

The goal is to maximize the immediate benefit of being vaccinated to reduce death and serious illness, which is why health care workers were the first to be eligible for the vaccine.

The state announced Tuesday it had vaccinated 70% of people ages 65 and older, opening vaccinations to the next priority two groups.


Those groups include people with specific underlying health conditions, rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness, and targeted essential workers. It also includes people age 45 and older with one or more underlying medical conditions, those age 16 and older with two or more underlying medical conditions, those age 50 and older in multi-generational housing and essential frontline workers.

Vaccinations remain open to those in the first priority group, which include people age 65 and older, health care workers, long-term care providers and staff, prekindergarten through high school educators, and child care staff members at licensed and certified child care centers.

"We don't want to waste anything and we definitely find arms in qualified individuals to be vaccinated so none is wasted."

— Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County Public Health supervisor.

Moritz said many grandparents and others who are not licensed are caring for children in their homes, and they are in a future priority group to be vaccinated.

She reiterated that eligibility can change quickly, as was learned Tuesday.

Each of the three vaccines - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and most recently Johnson & Johnson - comes with its own guidelines as to storage and use-by date.

“We don’t want to waste anything and we definitely find arms in qualified individuals to be vaccinated so none is wasted,” Moritz said.


The next eligible groups will include anyone age 16 and older with any underlying medical condition, people ages 50-64 regardless of health conditions and all other essential workers.

By summer, the vaccine should be available to any member of the general public who wants it. By then, Moritz said, providers should have more vaccine than they’ll know what to do with.

“And that’s a great problem. We’re looking forward to that,” she said. “We are really hoping people will accept the vaccine when they are offered the opportunity. Every dose gets us closer to this being over.”

Those who meet priority group guidelines can seek vaccination from public health, health care providers, participating pharmacies and state sites set up in Duluth, Minneapolis and Rochester.

For those not yet in a priority group, the state offers many tools to connect individuals to vaccines, including the Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Connector. People fill out a simple form, and when they are eligible for vaccination they’ll be alerted and connected to resources to schedule a vaccination appointment and notified if there are vaccine opportunities in their area.

Visit https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/connetctor/connector.jsp . There’s also a Minnesota Helpline/COVID-19 resources available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday: Call 651-297-1304 or 800-657-3504.

Health care providers are working together to get people vaccinated and also have tools to connect people to vaccines.

“As the vaccine becomes more widely available and we have larger population groups, public health will schedule community vaccination events like large scale clinics and drive-thru clinics,” Moritz said. ”We’re getting ready to be able to move forward when all that aligns.”


Health care providers also continue to urge people to get vaccinated when they can.

"The more we vaccinate, the less transmission we have."

— Dr. Peter Henry, Essentia Health chief medical officer.

“When you get the opportunity to be vaccinated, roll up your sleeves. We are encouraging people to take whatever you are offered as soon as you are offered that vaccine,” Moritz said, noting each of the three types of vaccine has great benefits that also cover new COVID-19 variants that are circulating. “The sooner we can get people vaccinated, we can keep moving forward.”

Henry said viruses naturally mutate to infect hosts, and variants can start here in the United States.

“The more we vaccinate, the less transmission we have,” he said.

Kyle Bauer, chief executive officer at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, called the vaccines “incredible.”

“It truly is a scientific minor miracle we have it this quickly, less than a year from when the virus really hit here,” he said.


Houle said all the vaccines do an excellent job of essentially eliminating the hospitalizations or death from COVID-19.

“We will continue to experience disruptions in our community if enough people in the community remain unvaccinated,” he said.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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