COVID-19 expected to taper off in mid to late August, tourism season impacts

Last updated on Wednesday, April 8, at 7:48 a.m.

Sanford Health reports they have confirmed seven positive cases of COVID-19 at their facility with six living in Beltrami County, but no evidence of community spread yet in Bemidji.

Dr. David Wilcox, Sanford Bemidji’s chief medical officer, says 166 total have been tested for COVID-19 at their facility, with seven confirmed positive, 139 negative and 17 still pending as of Monday, April 6.

According to Sanford’s modeling, cases in this area are expected to accelerate later in May, with a peak expected in mid to late June, with the disease tapering off in mid to late August.

Kelly Hagen, Sanford Bemidji’s vice president of nursing, says the hospital is preparing to expand capacity, for both noncritical and critical care, in anticipation of these surges.

Sanford is also working with other regional hospitals, such as the IHS hospitals in Cass Lake and Red Lake, and other regional healthcare centers in Baudette, International Falls, Big Fork, Park Rapids, Bagley and Fosston.

Beltrami County Public Health director Cynthia Borgen indicated during the meeting that one of the positive cases is being sheltered at the Super 8 Motel, which is currently housing the homeless while the Wolfe is shut down. Borgen also indicated that the patient is almost done with their isolation period.

Another vulnerable population discussed were inmates at the Beltrami County Jail, and Chris Muller, emergency management director, says extensive planning is taking place.

City Manager Nate Mathews, in coordination with Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson, said they will plan to tape off the city’s park equipment, such as playgrounds and facilities, on Tuesday, April 7. A discussion will also take place on whether or not to close the city’s parks entirely. According to a Facebook post on Tuesday, April 7, the parks and trails will remain open.

Masks and PPE

The Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health officials recently changed their messaging from “only the sick should wear masks” to “everyone should wear a mask.”

The ideology is that asymptomatic people could stop themselves from spreading illness by wearing a mask, rather than preventing people from getting sick.

Worldwide, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) is in short supply, and medical grade masks, such as N95 masks, should be reserved for healthcare workers and others in a hospital setting.

The CDC has released guidelines on how to construct a reusable fabric mask, but those should be washed after each use.

Borgen said they at Public Health will be working on messaging to the public on masks and who should wear them, and why.

REVOLVING LOAN FUND

The council discussed using their revolving loan fund (RLF) to help businesses in need of assistance.

Greater Bemidji is also creating an emergency loan fund for businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greater Bemidji’s executive director Dave Hengel expressed great concern about how the peak of this pandemic will essentially wipe out this year’s tourism season.

Community Development Director Steve Jones says they plan to streamline their process, with the help of staffers at the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, to stop gap financing where it’s needed in a timely manner.

The city plans to have a parallel loan program, rather than joining Greater Bemidji’s emergency loan program.

“Banks will lend directly to affected businesses, the Loan Program would partner with a local bank in the loan, up to $30,000 or 50%, whichever is less. For example, if the bank extends $50,000 to a business, the fund will ‘buy’ $25,000 of that loan. Loan repayments would be deferred at least 6 months,” said the memo prepared by Jones.

“The city has approximately $900,000 available in its revolving loan fund. The majority of the revolving loan fund is free to be used. In addition, the state has changed its rules and are allowing and encouraging expanded uses of existing revolving loan funds for ‘retail uses,’ at least until the end of the year. The city could consider using some of the ‘restricted’ funds in this manner as well since the state is allowing retail uses for existing RLF funds.”

Both Greater Bemidji’s program and the city’s RLF program will be used in conjunction, when possible, with emergency loan programs available from the state and federal governments.

The city plans to use up to $250,000 for this type of “stop gap” financing, with different terms for loans over $25,000 than for those under $25,000. The council may decide to expand the program in the future.

Another issue discussed with assisting businesses is not necessarily financial resources, but staffing resources. Bankers are especially busy during this time, as are the officials at the HRDC, city and Greater Bemidji.

RAIL CORRIDOR

The city was not successful in securing a redevelopment grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Due to the pandemic, City Manager Nate Mathews advises now is not a good time to apply for a contamination clean up grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The MPCA grant rounds are in May and in November.

Mayor Rita Albrecht, as well as the rest of the council, agreed that the grants should be pursued again in the fall.

No action was taken on this item.

Tonight was Steve Jones’ last meeting as Community Development Director. He has accepted a position in his hometown as a city administrator, and will be closer to his family.


Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers events and issues in north central Minnesota, which include local government, crime, courts, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University and received her degree in 2018. Larissa, native to the great state of New York, grew up in Bemidji, and enjoys spending her spare time with her family and pet cat. She also loves Star Trek, punk rock music and the theater.


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