Wadena County Commissioners unanimously approved a disaster declaration brought forward by the Wadena County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, March 17, with the expectation that COVID-19 will be hitting the region soon. The declaration went into effect immediately.

A group of about 25 attended the meeting with Commissioners Bill Stearns and Jim Hofer attending remotely.

Speaking for the sheriff’s office were emergency manager Tyler Wheeler and Bryan Savaloja requesting the declaration for 30 days. This declaration opens up opportunities for the county to apply for grant funding should staff start performing extra work or extra expenses accumulate related to the emergency.

Wadena County Public Health director Cindy Pederson and nursing supervisor Erica Keppers presented best practices for the county to avoid transmission. Pederson stressed the importance of avoiding exposure.

She expanded on the health department's desires to “flatten the curve” or put a stop to the explosion of new cases as has been witnessed in locations like Italy. The “flattening the curve concept” is to reduce the amount of patients sick at once, since if there is a “high spike bell curve” the number of patients sick would occur in a short time period taxing the national, statewide, regional and local health systems. Pederson explained that it’s through containment, community mitigation, pandemic management and demobilization that this will occur. Flattening the curve takes a burden off medical facilities and saves lives, Pederson explained.

She adds that while those are important, staying calm and staying home when sick are key.

Pederson brought a prop with her, a 6-foot string, which showed the distance that droplets can spread from one individual to another. She encouraged the group to keep that distance in their dealing with others.

Commissioner Sheldon Monson asked about what the faith community should be doing to avoid exposure. Pederson said they do have recommendations that they will continue to share with those in the faith communities.

“Even though there is not a diagnosed case in Wadena County, it’s probably just a matter of time,” Pederson said.

Should COVID-19 come to the area, Public Health is responsible for making sure those who are quarantined would get the medications they need at their doorstep.

City of Wadena

Also in attendance was Wadena Mayor George Deiss who said that the city council will have a special meeting at 3 p.m., Friday, March 20, to discuss the possible closure of the city offices. In a previous conversation, Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower said that closing the city offices would not mean that any services stop. Staff would still be performing their work, it just means that the public cannot enter the buildings. They can still call, email or drop off items like utility bills. Public meetings may look different, as well. The specifics will be explained at that upcoming meeting.

Tri-County Health Care staff also attended, including President and CEO Joel Beiswenger and Tammy Suchy. Suchy expressed the importance of a unified effort across all groups to take against the spread of the virus.

“It’s important now and not when we get our first case," Suchy said.

Beiswenger briefly spoke about the “what if.” He said that if COVID-19 is not slowed, the health care facilities will be burdened by the increase in patients.

"Worst case scenario, we will not have enough beds, and enough respirators and certain equipment to care for everyone that may need it," Beiswenger said. He added that typical partners, other hospitals, would also not have room for their patients.

In light of the need to make further decisions, commissioners cancelled a planned work session at 2 p.m., March 24. Instead that will be a regular board meeting likely used to update commissioners and the public on county actions related to COVID-19.

Commissioner Stearns noted that he was not in attendance because he had a head cold. Hofer was out recovering after having surgery.

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