City Of Duluth, Services, Hospital Leaders Provide Updates On COVID-19 Response
Duluth city leaders and organization heads held a press conference Monday morning, offering updates on a series of items related to the latest information on COVID-19. Here are the highlights:
- Mayor Emily Larson announced a "phased public building closure" plan for city buildings. Starting Wednesday, March 18, essential workers will provide on-site services, while non-essential workers will work remotely. All city buildings will be closed to the public starting Tuesday, March 17. She also said that she plans to "work through a State of Emergency" for the City of Duluth, with more details to come.
- Congressional Representative Pete Stauber outlined legislative measures the federal government has been taking, including two bills that have been passed with relation to the virus.
- Noah Schuchman, Duluth's Chief Administrative Officer further detailed that Monday will be the last day city buildings will be open to the public until further notice, and plans continue to be made to allow for city operations to be done remotely for non-essential services, and essential/emergency services will continue.
- Shawn Krizaj with the Duluth Fire Department explained emergency response will continue at normal levels, with some changes to the way they approach calls. Response will be different for firefighters, with "triage from the door" approach to identify issues while minimizing risks to responders.
- Police Chief Mike Tusken explained that they will go to online reporting and phone-based reporting for situations where there is no urgency to respond, for example when there is no suspect at the scene. Police will still be available to respond as normal to active emergencies.
- Amy Westbrook from St. Louis County Public Health confirmed that statewide, there are 35 COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, with none currently north of St. Cloud as of the time of the press conference, including none in St. Louis County. She still recommends individual and community mitigation; including staying home if you're sick, covering your coughs and sneezes with your arm, washing your hands, practice social distancing, and all other current recommended mitigation methods. She also encouraged businesses to reach out to the county health office with regard to decision-making related to COVID-19. County offices remain fully open and operational at this time. They offer more information on their website, here.
- Duluth Public Schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth reiterated that Duluth Public Schools will be closed starting Wednesday, March 18, in accordance with the Governor's order on Sunday. The time closed will be used by staff to determine how to to proceed with distance learning and longer-term plans. During the closure, students will still be offered breakfast and lunch, with details coming soon on how this will work. Child care options are also being assessed for families in the district, with more information to come. The latest is being updated on a page on the district's website.
- Essentia Health's East Market Director Dr. John Prior says Essentia continues to make preparations, with E-visits recommended as the best first step to determine if additional testing is necessary. They expect to offer drive-up/drive-through screenings as early as sometime this week for specimen collection, after it has been determined that testing is necessary. Visitors are restricted as of noon on March 16 at all Essentia hospitals. Employees with the option to work at home are being encouraged to do so.
- St. Luke's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Van Deelen followed up by explaining that St. Luke's is doing similar things as Essentia. Among those steps, visitor restrictions are being imposed. He went on to explain that due to restricted testing resources, there are a series of steps to follow to determine if a test should be conducted. First steps if you feel ill should be staying home, followed by contacting your care provider for remote consultation before seeking a test. He also advised staying home as much as necessary to minimize exposure.
- DTA General Manager Phil Pumphrey said the DTA continues to try to offer as much service to the public as possible, while still minimizing exposure. Measures like additional disinfection of vehicles are being taken to minimize exposure. He did go on to say that some employee schedules may be impacted, shifting schedules and moving some employees to working from home. While schedules are normal right now, the potential of modifications to service are possible down the road.
- Amy Rutledge from Minnesota Power spoke on behalf of MN Power and Superior Water, Light, and Power that they are taking all necessary steps to keep the lights on for their service area. She also shared that disconnections for residential customers who are facing financial hardship will be suspended immediately, and extending Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule through May 31. For SWLP customers, a similar extension of winter disconnection rules has been extended as well. Any customer facing payment difficulties are encouraged to contact them to work out payment options. Non-emergency customer site visits are being suspended as well to cut down on exposure risks.
- CHUM Executive Director Lee Stuart said they plan to continue services to the fullest extent possible, in accordance with advice from public health officials. Food shelf will move to low-contact distribution with pre-boxed food, similar to their Thanksgiving procedures. She also mentioned that they will be closed on Wednesday, March 18 to make the changeover to the boxed delivery, continuing normal Friday and Wednesday service after that date. Lakeside Food Shelf will be closed for the next 8 weeks, and cleaning protocols are being analyzed to make sure all efforts are being taken to keep things as safe as possible. Donations are still very much in need, and are encouraged if you have the ability to donate. Tax services suspended. Warming centers at Gloria Dei will stay open for the time being.
- Second Harvest Northland Executive Director Shaye Morris explained that they are doing what they can to maintain food availability as well as needed non-food items for food shelves and other distributions centers. She also explained that volunteers are a majority of the team that makes what they do possible, asking for help from people who are able to do so.
- Duluth Area Family YMCA CEO Sarah Cole says they will be redeploying resources to support child care and food access. Starting Wednesday, March 18, fitness services will be suspended and facilities will be closed to the public to offer child care options to first responders, health care workers, and other essential employees in the area. Early education centers will also remain open.
- Jill Keppers Duluth Housing & Redevelopment Authority their central office in the King Manor Building will be closed to the public starting March 18. Applications will still be accepted by mail, or can be picked up outside the central office. They can be mailed in or dropped off on the first floor of King Manor in the drop box. Staff will continue to process applications and work with residents. Maintenance teams will be asking if anyone in the unit is sick before entering, and inspections or non-emergency maintenance will be rescheduled if someone is ill.
- Duluth Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele noted that the Duluth Fire Department child seat clinics will be suspended until further notice.
Following up on initial statements, during a question and answer period, it was explained that local hospitals are doing pre-screenings to determine if testing is necessary due to limited testing resources. There have been tests of Northland residents, with no positive results at this time.