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Pastor among first southern Minnesotans with the coronavirus

While Craig Breimhorst, the first Rice County resident with a confirmed case of COVID-19, deals with fever, chills and fatigue, those he came in contact with just prior to his diagnosis are waiting out their 14-day quarantine.

Breimhorst woke up March 14 after flying back to Minneapolis from Israel late the prior evening, with a fever and slight chills. Breimhorst, a former Faribault pastor, called Allina Health in Faribault and the clinic administered a test for the virus.

Breimhorst, 71, who led Christ Lutheran Church in Faribault for 30 years, learned Tuesday he contracted the virus. He’s been in self-quarantine since returning from the clinic.

“The only time I’ve been out of the house was to drive to the clinic and back,” Breimhorst said late last week.

He’s still suffering from a fever and fatigue.

“I’ve had a fever everyday, but it’s been lower,” he said. “I’m just tired a lot.”

Breimhorst has alerted everyone on the trip that he has contracted the virus. Breimhorst, who works part-time at Trinity Lutheran in West Concord, was part of a Lenten Holy Land pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan with a group of several members from different congregations in the Faribault area. The group left March 1 before travel restrictions to Israel and other places began and returned to the U.S. March 13.

Israel is listed at Level 3 by the U.S. Department of State as a destination to reconsider traveling to. On March 5, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health announced seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and its surrounding suburbs while Israel estimated as many as 14 cases at that time. On Monday, there were more than 1,000 confirmed cases in Israel, a county with a population of 6.55 million.

The group traveled to Jordan but returned to Israel a day before Jordan shut down its border.

“This thing all got crazy when we were over there,” Breimhorst said. “If there would’ve been any danger in this at all, we wouldn’t have gone.”

Breimhorst will remain self-quarantined for a total of 14 days and those who had contact with him remain in quarantine for 14 days from the last time of contact. Public Health officials recommend anyone 70 years and older, and those with underlying health conditions stay home as much as possible and avoid gatherings and other instances of potential exposures, including travel.

Current recommendations are that anyone sick with respiratory symptoms or fever, should stay at home for seven days after illness onset or 72 hours after resolution of the fever, whichever is longer. The majority of people infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and make full recoveries but it has had more serious impacts on the elderly and those with underlying health issues, and puts a strain on medical resources.

Breimhorst hasn’t had any breathing issues and stays fit, he said. He wear a mask in the home when he and his wife, Carol, are on the same floor level and the couple has separate bathrooms that they use, Breimhorst said. He’s had medication for nausea delivered and left at the doorstep without problem.

“People have been awesome,” he said. “We just got some chocolate chip cookies at the doorstep.”

In contact

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church Director of Faith Formation Kira Anderson and her husband, Mitch, were on the trip with Breimhorst and remain in self-quarantine with their three children. They have not shown any symptoms.

Kira had been to the church prior to learning that Breimhorst contracted COVID-19 but the church announced it suspended all activity March 14.

“Kira came into the space but no one other than our staff has been in the space,” Our Savior’s Lutheran Pastor Jeff Sandgren said. “We have controlled as best we can any contact with the potential virus.”

The church has conducted services through Facebook and will continue to do so. The congregation has rallied to help the Anderson family as well.

“I know that if I needed something that members of my congregation would leave things on my doorstep,” Kira said.

For now the family is finding activities to do at home. The Andersons have worked on puzzles, the children have worked on reading and watched a live stream from the Cincinnati Zoo. If anyone in the house develops symptoms, the 14-day self-quarantine period restarts, Anderson said.

During the trip the group remained vigilant to wash their hands and follow guidelines.

“We never went into any place where there was any sign of the disease,” Breimhorst said.

Both Breimhorst and Anderson feel it’s important to remain transparent about the situation so rumors don’t swirl.

“I think it’s important to be transparent,” Anderson said. “It’s important that we get the facts.”

COVID-19 cases grow throughout state, region

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide has jumped by nearly 40% since the weekend, due in large part to an increase in the number of tests able to be processed over the last few days.

In a Monday afternoon press briefing, Gov. Tim Walz said the state was able to process more than 980 samples on Sunday alone and gave a special thanks to the Mayo Clinic, which has developed its own test for the novel coronavirus, as well as a number of drive-through testing sites across southern Minnesota.

“We were able to clear our backlog,” added Walz, who is himself in isolation following contact with a known COVID-19 case. “Those should all be off by today.”

In southern Minnesota, the first three cases of COVID-19 in Steele County were reported over the weekend — with two patients confirmed on Saturday and another the following morning. Le Sueur County also got its first confirmed case and Rice County got a second.

A Steele County patient in their 20s, reportedly had no known contact with anybody overseas or traveling out of state, said Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron. “This causes some concern for us in public health that this is a community spread case. That means that it’s within the community.”

For now, public health officials are saying, the most important actions people can take locally continue to be remaining at home when sick and staying 6 feet away from others, given that the virus is spread primarily through respiratory droplets shared via close, person-to-person contact.

“We’re trying to slow the spread of this. We can’t contain it anymore and we really want people to heed the warning of staying 6 feet away from other people. That’s huge in slowing this spread down,” said Caron.

More testing, more cases

She added that southeastern Minnesota — including Rice and Steele counties, as well as the Rochester area — has the second highest number of confirmed cases statewide, outside of the Twin Cities metro.

“One reason could be that Mayo developed their own test and right now, they’re able to still use this test for people who have symptoms,” she noted. “The other tests available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the MDH are restricted now for people who are hospitalized and health care workers that have been exposed, because of the shortage of tests and testing supplies.”

With more people being tested, Caron noted that it would make sense that the region is seeing more confirmed cases. In daily briefings, state health officials have often noted that the number of actual COVID-19 patients in the state likely far surpasses the confirmed total.

“Over the course of this, between 40% and 80% of Minnesotans will have become infected with COVID-19,” Walz noted on Monday. “The vast majority will recover without hospitalization. Those that need it, we need to make sure they’re able to get it.”

The governor added that the National Guard is moving additional personal protective equipment from Camp Ripley and that guardsmen continue to be used in other capacities throughout the state.

Other executive orders signed by Walz on Monday suspended eviction proceedings during the current peacetime emergency and set up a localized small business loan program through the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Outside of Steele County, Le Sueur, Nicollet and Rice counties saw an increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases over the weekend. Goodhue County continues to have no confirmed cases.

Waseca County was also listed as having two cases on the MDH website, but public health director Sarah Berry explained that this was due to a mapping error which she’s currently working on getting resolved with the state. As of Monday afternoon, Waseca County still only had the one case confirmed last week.

First case in Le Sueur, third in Nicollet

According to a press release from local officials, the person with Le Sueur County’s first case is in their 40s and is recovering at home with no work exposures having been identified.

Cindy Shaughnessy, director of Le Sueur County Public Health, said she wasn’t able to say at this time how the individual was exposed but that state health officials are currently investigating the case. She added that just because the cause isn’t immediately apparent doesn’t mean it’s necessarily community transmission.

“I don’t have that information but on daily briefing calls, the health department is saying that there is community transition going on,” said Shaughnessy.

On Saturday, the MDH also confirmed a third patient in nearby Nicollet County, identified by local health officials as a 26-year-old who was exposed to the virus by contact with a known COVID-19 case. The individual is recovering at home, as state officials work on identifying and following up with others who may have come in contact with the patient.

Because the newest case was transmitted through contact with someone who had previously tested positive, Nicollet County Health and Human Services Director Cassandra Sassenberg said in an email that the individual is not on the MDH’s community transmission list.

“The CDC defines community transmission as detection of confirmed cases of COVID-19 with no epidemiological link to travelers or known cases,” she noted.

Second confirmed in Rice County

Rice County Public Health was also notified by state officials on Monday of a second confirmed local case. The agency said in a press release that, based on limited information, the patient is in their 30s and has transmission linked to travel within the United States. The patient was not hospitalized and is currently isolated at home.

“If you have any upper respiratory symptoms — anything from body aches, fever, coughing, sore throat, headaches, those type of things — they’re saying that you should stay home for at least seven days and also for three days with no fever and improvement of those symptoms, whichever is longer,” said Caron, of new guidance from national and state health officials.

Before coming in to get tested, local health care providers are most often requiring patients to call ahead of time, in order to limit the risk of transmitting the virus to others. Caron noted that shortness of breath, to an extent that can no longer be managed at home, is one exception where individuals should seek care as quickly as possible.

Hiawathaland Transit’s buses provide an affordable, accessible means of transportation for Faribault area residents. And even as many businesses shutter amid a global coronavirus pandemic, Hiawathaland is continuing to offer its transportation services. (Andrew Deziel/Faribault Daily News)

Riley Dummer led the K-W girls basketball team in scoring this season. (Kenyon Leader file photo)

Backed by Walz's order, AG's office tackles price gouging

As the global coronavirus pandemic hits Minnesota hard and families rush to stock up on supplies, Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison are rushing to crack down on price gouging.

An emergency executive order signed on Friday, prohibits charging “unconscionably excessive” prices for “essential consumer goods and services,” including food, medicine, housing, and gasoline.

The order defines “unconscionably excessive” as more than 20% higher than a price that was charged within the previous 30 days, unless the business or individual can demonstrate that the cost increase is primarily attributable to increased costs beyond their control.

No price gouging law exists at the federal level, and Minnesota is one of just 16 states which lacks a state-level law. Nonetheless, Gov. Walz has implemented the decision with the powers granted to him under the Peacetime State of Emergency Declaration issued Mar. 13.

Since last week, the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has received more than 300 complaints related to price gouging, according to Deputy Chief of Staff John Stiles. Many of those were received before the price gouging ban came into effect at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Stiles said that the Attorney General’s office worked closely with the Governor on the executive order and began accepting reports in anticipation of its implementation. Currently, staff for the office are now visiting stores on the lookout for the unsavory practice.

The Attorney General’s website now has a page dedicated to Minnesotans who wish to report price gouging.

Stiles said that when staff for the Attorney General’s office witness or receive documentation of price gouging, they can issue an order to that business or individual to cease and desist, under the threat of legal action.

Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said that his office reached out to the Attorney General’s office after receiving reports of price gouging from constituents. Draheim said that he is glad to see the governor and attorney general take action.

“This is not the time for people to be price gouging each other,” he added.

Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, also said he was glad to see action against price gouging. Like Draheim, Lippert said he has heard from constituents who have been victimized by the practice.

“There’s a few people who are trying to take advantage of a crisis situation and we need to make sure that’s not happening,” he said. “People need to be protected so that they can get what they need during this time of emergency.”

Because the measure has been implemented via executive order and not by the legislature, it will only have effect for the duration of the Peacetime Emergency. Some legislators have called for the measure to be made permanent.

Along with several of his colleagues, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill banning price gouging on March 12. It was included as part of a broad package of reforms that the House had proposed to help Minnesotans affected by the pandemic.

Allina Health's request for face mask donations nets 7,000 and counting

Health care organizations, including Allina Health, are in need of additional masks to help meet ongoing health care needs and to help conserve existing personal protective equipment for providers engaged in the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

Melissa Whitmer of Lonsdale is one local resident who began making masks for health care workers over the past couple of days.

“I have had many people reach out saying they want to help out but do not know how to sew,” said Whitmer. “People have donated money for supplies, fabric and elastic. It’s a great way to give back to those who need it right now.”

While Allina Health, which operates Owatonna and District One hospitals, is asking for donations of factory-made N95 and ear loop masks, it’s partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to announce a new community-based initiative to assist with the shortage. The initiative asks skilled volunteers throughout the state to sew CDC-approved reusable face masks that health workers can use as they treat patients. Instructions on how to make hand sewn masks can be viewed at allinahealth.org/coronavirus.

External Communications Advisor Tim Burke said Allina Health received over 7,000 masks to distribute at all locations since Sunday.

“We’re collecting now and the next two weeks, so we expect that number to increase dramatically,” said Burke on Monday. “We’ll just take whatever the public can find to give us or make by hand.”

Additionally, Allina Health welcomes notes of gratitude and encouragement that they will share in a safe manner with caregivers.

“Our communities are always looking for ways to help each other. We are so heartened by the response and are grateful for the public wanting to assist us in this critical hour,” said Helen Strike, COVID-19 System Incident Commander for Allina Health. “Individuals and organizations like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have reached out to lend their support in big and small ways. BCBS is partnering with us and other providers by organizing a statewide network of volunteers to help sew masks.”

Masks can be safely donated daily from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Sunday, March 22 through April 5. Donations sites are at most Allina Health hospitals. Details on specific locations at each facility will be available on allinahealth.org.

Allina Health hospitals in southern Minnesota accepting donations are

• District One Hospital, 200 State Ave., Faribault

• New Ulm Medical Center, 1324 5th St. N, New Ulm

• Owatonna Hospital, 2250 NW 26th St., Owatonna

• Regina Hospital, 1175 Nininger Road, Hastings

• St. Francis Regional Medical Center, 1455 St. Francis Ave, Shakopee

When donating masks, remain in your car. A staff member will come to you to accept your donation.

Details on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s volunteer drive effort can be found at https://blog.bluecrossmn.com/covid19masks