It’s the time of year for jackets, crunchy leaves and pumpkin spice everything, but there’s something else the start of fall signifies: flu season.
Health professionals recommend everyone 6 months of age and older receive the flu vaccination annually. As the country continues efforts to slow down the spread of COVID-19, health professionals are especially urgent in their message to get vaccinated.
“We don’t know what the season will bring as far as the level of flu illness, but that’s why we want people to get vaccinated now,” said Deb Purfeerst, director of Rice County Public Health. “Both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses. We know thousands of Minnesotans end up in the hospital due to the flu each year, and having both those circulating, we want to keep both of those cases down to not overwhelm the healthcare system.”
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, which is another reason why Purfeerst encourages early vaccinations. Influenza typically circulates between October and May, she said, but it’s never too late to get vaccinated, either.
“We’re fortunate we have a vaccine to help lessen severity [of influenza],” Purfeerst said. “That’s’ not the case with COVID, so we want to keep as many people healthy and out of the hospital as possible.”
Getting the flu vaccination doesn’t just protect the one who received the vaccine, Purfeerst explained. It also prevents the spread of the flu to those who could get sick with complications. For example, she said it’s important for those who spend a lot of time with children under 6 months, who are too young for the vaccination, to get a flu shot. Those most likely to experience complications of the flu are those 65 and older, children under 5, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions.
Since the circulating viruses change from year to year, Purfeerst said the vaccine may not always match the current virus exactly. But vaccine developers complete their research well before flu season starts to determine which viruses will most likely circulate in the U.S. based on what’s occurring in other countries.
“Typically most flu vaccines have protections against four different strains,” Purfeerst said. “Those in the business of developing flu vaccines are definitely attempting to match what is most likely to circulate.”
Vaccinations serve as “one tool in the toolbox” of preventing the spread of the flu, she said. Many preventative measures are similar to those already being enforced during the pandemic: washing hands, cleaning frequently touched surfaces and staying at home when sick. With that comes wearing a mask and social distancing, which have become customary responses to the coronavirus pandemic but can also ward off the flu.
Where to go
A number of healthcare facilities, pharmacies and sometimes even places of work are offering flu vaccinations starting this week. Rice County Public Health primarily focuses on congregate settings like senior living facilities, where access to flu vaccinations might pose a challenge this year. Public Health also has a special effort to provide vaccinations to uninsured and under-insured populations. Purfeerst encourages individuals to contact their primary healthcare provider or Public Health to learn how to access the vaccination.
Community clinics will look differently this year due to the safeguards applied in response to COVID-19. Where large group events previously drew in a number of clients lining up to receive the vaccination, Purfeerst said individuals may need to call to schedule their appointments in advance or wait in their cars to maintain 6 feet of social distancing.
Allina Health clinics are now accepting appointments for flu vaccinations, both from Allina patients and non-Allina patients. Those who scheduled appointments for other reasons will be offered the vaccine during their visit. These vaccines are injectable, and supplies for a nasal spray called FluMist will soon become available for patients ages 2 through 49.
“Getting an influenza vaccination is especially important with COVID-19 still very active in our community,” said Allina Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Frank Rhame in a press release. “Co-infection with COVID-19 and influenza produces more serious disease. Since the flu and COVID-19 produce similar symptoms, it is even more important for people to get the flu shot as a way to reduce the likelihood of needing to use precious supplies, like tests, to rule out a COVID-19 infection. Getting a flu shot is one simple way people can contribute to the efforts to combat COVID-19 this year.”
Similarities between COVID-19 and influenza include common symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, body aches and headache. Changes or loss of taste or smell may point to coronavirus, symptoms not often associated with the flu. While both can result in severe illnesses and complications for seniors and babies, Purfeerst said healthy children over 5 are more at risk of the flu compared to COVID-19.
The Mayo Clinic Health System also encourages early vaccinations and stresses the need for community participation in slowing down both illnesses.
“With no vaccine for COVID-19, we’ll continue to see the virus spread and sicken people this fall and winter. Unfortunately, that will coincide with the upcoming flu season,” Martin Herrmann, M.D., medical director of Mayo Clinic Health System in New Prague, said in a press release. “We need people to do their part and get the flu vaccine to lessen the severity of the upcoming flu season so we can continue to respond to COVID-19 as needed.”
Over the last several months, residents of the Circle Lake area in northwest Rice County have made impressive progress toward their goals of cleaning up the lake and ridding it of invasive species.
Now, the Circle Lake Association will have to continue that work without the expected windfall from their largest fundraiser. The Circle the Lake Run, a tradition now stretching back nearly a decade, has officially been cancelled for 2020.
A 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lake, the Circle Lake Association has held the race each fall since 2012. Over that time, the event grew rapidly, often boasting attendance of more than 200 runners and 50 volunteers.
A family- and pet-friendly event, the run offered participants a choice between a 5k, 10k or half-marathon route, all on course around the lake. With views of the Lake and surrounding scenery, it made for a picturesque setting. The event’s growth was of much benefit to the Circle Lake Association. According to Dean Sunderlin, a former association president, the Run brought in roughly $14,000 last year, with all proceeds devoted to lake improvement efforts.
Beyond just the money, the event has turned into a key social event for association members, giving them a chance outside of the group’s annual meeting to get to know each other, said current Association President Keith Kluzak.
Strangers were brought together by the event as well. Despite running on a limited budget, the association was able to advertise the run online, at which point it began attracting participants from across the Upper Midwest.
Now, the event has become just one more victim of COVID-19. Though they had initially hoped to have the run, the association’s board opted to cancel it outright rather than trying a “virtual” format, as some other charity runs have attempted
“We don’t think we’d have the support (for that),” Sunderlin said.
Ironically, the setback comes just as the association is completing a crucial project nearly a decade in the making.
This summer, the association finally dredged a portion of Wolf Creek adjacent to Circle Lake. Last dredged in 1977, the creek had since become a prime culprit of increasing sediment levels in Circle Lake. While the dredging portion of the project is now complete, Kluzak said that cleanup is still in progress.
In total, the project came at a cost of $79,000. Of that, roughly 42% has been raised from area homeowners, a third from the Tri-Lake Sportsmen’s Club and the remainder from the Circle Lake Association’s general fund.
In previous years, the association had embarked on other smaller initiatives to remove carp and other non-native species and install holding ponds to filter sediment. However, the dredging was the most complete project it had embarked on recently.
The lake has long been considered impaired by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. A 2010 study found high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, along with two invasive species, curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil, which thrive on the nutrients.
With the long overdue project now complete, the association’s next plans could be announced as soon as next spring. Priorities have already been identified in a lake report recently completed by engineering and consulting firm ISG. The association’s efforts will be further boosted by the establishment of a new taxing district, the Circle Lake Improvement District. Kluzak said that the association plans on collaborating with the district and providing funding for future projects.
The taxing district was established last year by the Rice County Board of Commissioners at the request of area residents who had longed for additional funding to deal with the lake’s issues. Under state law, they were required to present a petition signed by at least half of the property owners who would become part of the proposed district.
They managed to do so, even though some area residents raised concerns about the structure of the board. Under the new property tax district, each land owner can be assessed a fee of up to $300 annually.
In addition to securing a more reliable, regular stream of revenue, establishing a taxing district gives area residents a much better chance of securing grant funding from state agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources.
The district finally received that tax revenue this summer, enabling it to commission the study from ISG. Another chunk of the funding was devoted to covering debt associated with the formation of the district.
The ISG report was reviewed by association members as part of their August meeting, held virtually via Zoom. Kluzak said that the report was revealing and helped the association’s members to suggest their priorities.
“We could readily see sediment and phosphorus in Circle Lake,” he said. “It also helped to illustrate the Wolf Creek dredging project’s importance.”
Along with naming its business of the year, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism will use its Business Awards luncheon to honor a prominent local businessman and philanthropist who died last year.
Along with Met-Con, the company he founded, Tom McDonough will be honored with a Legacy Award at the Chamber’s luncheon next month. McDonough died last year at the age of 77 after more than 40 years at the helm of Met-Con.
A Faribault native, McDonough started out in the construction industry with BMI and Healy before founding Met-Con in 1978. With a main office in the family basement and just 12 employees, including his 14-year old son Randy, the company’s origins were humble. McDonough grew Met-Con into something of a business empire, expanding into real estate, HVAC production, masonry, lumber and more. The company moved into a facility in north Faribault’s Industrial Park, and expansions into Mankato and the Twin Cities followed.
McDonough was able to expand the business in part because he was willing to take on projects that other builders wouldn’t. Met-Con’s tagline, “We can do that,” was coined by McDonough, reflecting his penchant for accepting difficult projects and tight deadlines.
McDonough took great pride in his reputation for treating Met-Con employees like family. He loaned equipment to people who needed it, hosted hundreds at Met-Con’s Christmas parties, and had an “open door policy” of inviting clients, employees and friends into his home.
“You can go buy any equipment and do all of that, but if you don’t have the people to run it and do it efficiently, you don’t have anything,” McDonough said in a 2017 Daily News interview. “I wake up every morning and am blessed to have employees so dedicated.”
Randy McDonough, who still works at Met-Con, echoed those sentiments. He said that if his father were alive, he would have been quick to give the credit for the business’s success to his hard-working employees.
“I’m very happy that Dad has won the award,” Randy McDonough said. “He’d tell you it’s the employees that make the company go … and Dad was our leader.”
Randy McDonough said that he doesn’t know yet how many Met-Con employees will be able to attend the ceremony, or whether he or his mother Sandra, Tom’s wife of nearly 57 years, will accept the award on behalf of Met-Con.
McDonough was also known for his philanthropy, particularly his generous contributions to local law enforcement. He played an instrumental role in helping the Rice County Sheriff’s Office and Faribault Police start their K-9 programs and funded other equipment purchases.
Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn was effusive in his praise for McDonough. He said that every time the two saw each other, McDonough would always ask if there was any way he could support law enforcement.
“I can’t think of a person more deserving of that award,” he said. I wish he was still alive to receive it. The man had a heart of gold and was always looking out for others, whether it be in his own organization or in his community.”
Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen offered warm words as well. “He was a great supporter of local law enforcement, and a great friend of Faribault PD,” Bohlen said. “We appreciate what he’s done for us … and I was grateful to call him a friend.”
Met-Con will also be recognized as one of five recipients of the Chamber’s special “COVID Response and Community Resilience Award.” The five businesses honored each played a role in the Chamber’s effort to produce and distribute hand sanitizer to local businesses.
While Met-Con has continued to be generous with its resources, Randy McDonough conceded that its market has tightened. Still, he said that crews have continued to work and Met-Con has done what it can to keep them safe.
Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen said that Met-Con’s commitment to supporting the community formed the bedrock of Tom McDonough’s life and legacy. For that, the community has much reason to be grateful.
“The passing of Tom is a loss that was felt by many,” Kuennen said. We were always very honored by the support that Tom showed to the city and the community. We hope that legacy will live on.”