COVID numbers skyrocket, affect healthcare workers

By Anna Jauhola
As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the county, no one is immune – least of all those who work within healthcare facilities.
Last week, Kittson Healthcare updated its Facebook page after a week-long hiatus. Those in charge had been doing regular updates of case numbers and deaths, but it suddenly stopped.
Public Health Director Cindy Urbaniak and Kittson Healthcare Clinic Director Andrea Swenson had been collaborating on the numbers and updates, but both came down with the virus.
“Nobody in the building that had access to that spreadsheet can really keep up with the numbers at this point,” said Urbaniak, speaking via phone from her home. “And it’ll probably take a fair amount of work to get it updated once we get back.”
The numbers as of Monday afternoon from the Minnesota Department of Health showed Kittson County with 284 total COVID cases – both confirmed and probable – and nine deaths.
Both Urbaniak and Swenson are back on the job this week after completing their isolation periods. The latest Facebook post said this: “We at Kittson Healthcare are in the heat of the battle against COVID-19. Even with all of the precautions and personal protective equipment that we are using with staff, residents and patients, COVID is affecting almost every department in the facility. We are seeing increasing cases in our communities as well. Because of this we are not able to keep up with posting of COVID-19 statistics for Kittson County. We must focus our attention and energy into patient and resident care right now.”
In their absence, Urbaniak said the state numbers are accurate, but a couple of days behind. It takes a little bit for numbers from counties to filter through the state system. Usually, she sees about four to five names for positive cases enter the system each day from Kittson County.
“We hope to get (the updates) back so we can tell the community and the county what the active case totals are,” she said. “I’m hoping people are testing. And I think people are staying at home, just assuming they have it.”
As for Urbaniak, she said her symptoms began on Wednesday, Nov. 25 with a slight cough, fever, scratchy throat and chills. She has been diligent about wearing her mask, going to work and going home, not really mixing with people. She likened her symptoms to the common cold, but stressed that many who have COVID-19 only develop these minor symptoms or no symptoms at all.
“I’d been putting in lots of hours at work, feeling really run down and not sleeping very much,” she said. “I think that didn’t help me any, that’s for sure.”
Part of Urbaniak’s job, along with County School Nurse Jeanna Kujava, is to conduct contact tracing. They call those who have tested positive to try to figure out where they contracted the disease. In those calls, Urbaniak believes the higher numbers are due mostly to community spread and the many people who have tested positive and were asymptomatic.
This is why it is so important to re-emphasize that the general public continue wearing masks, social distance and wash their hands – “All those things we’ve told people to do for months now.”
“But, we are looking forward to a vaccine coming into the facility in the next few weeks,” Urbaniak said. “We’re very busy trying to get a list of all staff – who is willing to take the vaccine, who is not willing to take it, or who wants to wait to take it,” she said.
The plan at this point is to vaccinate county healthcare staff first. Then, they plan to vaccinate essential services providers like firefighters, ambulance workers, highway department, county and city staff, basically those who help keep essential services running.
The tricky part, however, is not the planning. It is making sure the vaccine is distributed on a strict timeline once it’s delivered.
Urbaniak said Kittson Healthcare will likely receive the vaccine produced by Pfizer, which must be stored at super-sub-zero temperatures. She has arranged with the Pembina grocery store to get dry ice to store the vaccine. However, once the vials are out of their frozen state, the vaccines must be used in five days.
“We definitely don’t want to waste it and the government doesn’t want us to waste it,” Urbaniak said. “They want the vaccine to get into people and that’s going to be our priority.”
While essential workers will have the chance to get the vaccine this month locally, Urbaniak said the general public will have to wait a little longer. She has heard spring or late summer, but has the feeling it could be earlier than that. Time will tell and until then, she urges the public to be patient and continue with social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
“People need to get the saliva tests and have them on hand,” Urbaniak said. “Then, when they test, they need to stay home until they get those results. And even with that, you’re still contagious 48 hours prior to symptoms showing up.”
To obtain saliva tests, free of charge, visit the Minnesota Department of Health website at https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/testsites/athome.html.

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