By Anna Jauhola
Local healthcare and public schools are being vigilant this influenza season as the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is spreading across the country.
Kittson County Public Health Director Cindy Urbaniak updated the county commission on both issues during the regular meeting on Thursday, March 5.
“I started thinking about it earlier this week and decided to update our pandemic plan,” Urbaniak said.
In 2009, when the H1N1 flu virus hit Kittson County, Kittson Healthcare implemented a pandemic plan, which included a separate clinic site in the hospital’s basement specifically for H1N1 patients. She said isolating and masking patients helped minimize exposure to patients in the regular clinic.
“That’s what I see right now as being our first step,” she said. “And it’s kind of challenging because we’re in influenza season right now too.”
Handwashing is still the regular citizen’s best defense to the flu and COVID-19. Like the flu, COVID-19 spreads in droplet form – if someone coughs or sneezes, it spreads 3 to 6 feet and drops to a surface. She said sanitizing surfaces with disinfecting wipes is also important, especially in public places. Also, masks will not help the general public so she warns against purchasing them. Instead, she emphasizes handwashing, staying home if you feel ill and to call your local clinic if you have symptoms before visiting.
She said more than 80 percent of those suffering from COVID-19 “are having mild symptoms” and most deaths have occurred in people over 65.
“There is no vaccine for this virus yet, but manufacturers are working on one,” Urbaniak said. “And anti-virals are not working on this virus.”
As of Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed two positive cases of COVID-19. The North Dakota Department of Health has no positive cases but is monitoring four individuals for COVID-19 symptoms.
Although no COVID-19 cases have been reported in Kittson County, the flu has been a problem this year. Urbaniak said between 40 and 50 cases have been confirmed so far in the county.
Kittson County’s three schools are working to combat and prevent the influenza virus from spreading as much as they can and are watching for information about COVID-19.
“It’s something that is definitely on the radar,” said Kittson Central Superintendent Bob Jaszczak in an email to the Enterprise. “I have been in contact with Shannon Hunstad from Lancaster and Ryan Baron from Tri-County. We are in the process of creating a common message to be shared with the communities.”
Kittson Central, Lancaster and Tri-County schools have all experienced student absences due to seasonal flu or flu-like illnesses. As they learn more about COVID-19, administrators are working with County Nurse Jeanna Kujava to implement a plan for a major outbreak.
“Should we have a significant number of students or staff gone, we would consider suspending school for a few days,” Jaszczak said. “There are always a number of factors to consider in such an action, so there is not a specific template.”
Should students or staff exhibit symptoms of either virus, they are sent home or encouraged to stay home.
On Tri-County School’s website homepage there is a link to a Minnesota Department of Health influenza screening information sheet. If parents check yes to whether their child has a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a sore throat or cough, they need to stay home.
“The schools depend heavily on the advice of healthcare professionals as we deal with these situations,” Jaszczak said. “There is a good working relationship with Kittson Healthcare Public Health and they will continue to be an important resource for schools.”
For continuing information on COVID-19, visit CDC.gov or health.state.mn.us.
By Anna Jauhola