The Beltrami County Commissioners met in their role as the community health board Tuesday, as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in the county.
Currently, the local public health team is monitoring 104 active cases of COVID-19, with one of those cases within the boundaries of the Red Lake Reservation. Twenty-one COVID patients are hospitalized at Sanford Bemidji, with 13 of those being Beltrami County residents.
Some of the new cases are attributed to the community testing event held last week in Bemidji. Of the 1,285 people who were tested over the three-day event, 33 were positive, with 24 Beltrami County cases.
According to Public Health’s Megan Heuer, at least 26 COVID cases were tied to a single wedding.
“The bride and groom, and many of the guests, worked in one department,” said Heuer.
“We’ve also seen COVID cases among coworkers and their families who spend time together outside of work.”
Commissioner Reed Olson asked if any cases were tied to the Sept. 18 campaign event for President Donald Trump.
“We have had four people willing to share they’ve been at the rally,” said Heuer.
“Others have not been as forthcoming, so we can only associate four cases to that event.”
Commissioner Jim Lucachick questioned the public health team’s use of the word “significant” when it came to describing the increase Beltrami County has seen in COVID numbers.
“Compared to the county’s population, those numbers are not significant,” said Lucachick.
“Our schools do see these numbers as significant,” said Heuer. “The schools are looking at changing learning models, four to five weeks into the school year, into a full distance model.”
According to data presented by Public Health director Cynthia Borgen, compared to each race’s population, non-Hispanic whites in the county have seen a smaller proportion of COVID cases compared to the population averages, with a proportional death rate.
In the American Indian community, the prevalence of COVID-19 is proportional to the population, but American Indian COVID patients requiring ICU care is higher than its population rate. The death rate is lower.
Commissioner Craig Gaasvig asked why race is a factor in COVID-19 reporting.
“The virus doesn’t care what race someone is,” said Gaasvig.
Borgen replied that, especially in the American Indian community, the prevalence of comorbidities is higher, especially for diabetes and obesity.
“COVID-19 is hitting this community harder than the white population, ” said Borgen. “We as a county need to address these health disparities.”
Commissioner Tim Sumner asked his colleagues what role county commissioners play in the community health board.
“There have been members of this board, going about town maskless, attending rallies,” said Sumner. “We are responsible for our citizens, let’s act responsibly.”
Lucachick replied that the board should be careful in how the information is presented to the public.
“As a health board, we have just as much of a responsibility not to over exaggerate,” said Lucachick.