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Jon Weisbrod / By JON WEISBROD jweisbrod@owatonna.com 

Owatonna junior Kaden Nsleon was recently named to the annual MWCA Academic All-State Wrestling Team at 160 pounds. The team consists of 28 wrestlers who have achieved a lofty standard of excellence both on the mat and in the classroom. (Jon Weisbrod/People’s Press)

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When, where and whether or not to get tested for COVID-19

With the first COVID-19 cases related to community spread now out in the state, and numbers expected to rise, public health officials are trying to get the word out on the correct way to get yourself tested.

“We’re hearing from our clinical providers in the community that they are seeing increasing numbers of residents showing up asking for testing,” said Olmsted County Public Health Services Director Graham Briggs. “One thing we need to be working on is not putting a strain on those emergency departments.”

A March 9 news release from the Northfield Hospital and Clinics advised that patients may need to seek testing if they are exhibiting the primary COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough and shortness of breath — in addition to meeting other potential risk factors such as recent travel or close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.

The release also noted that fever and a rash, or fever and vomiting or diarrhea, would also be reasons to call in and see if testing is recommended.

Leslie Lovett, Minnesota Department of Health emerging infections unit supervisor, said individuals returning from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — countries with a Level 3 Travel Advisory — should closely monitor their health and are asked to stay home for a two-week period upon re-entry based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If they’re sick enough to normally seek out a health care provider, then they would be advised to notify their provider in advance that they had recent travel and work out appropriate care and testing,” added Lovett. “If they’re not sick enough to go seek out care, then we just recommend that people stay home when they’re sick.”

Public health officials and providers across southern Minnesota echoed Lovett’s advisory that anyone with a potential case of COVID-19 should call their clinic first, instead of going in person. This way, clients will be able to talk through their situation and make a plan for limiting exposure to others if they are ill.

“Don’t just go to the clinic,” reiterated Cindy Shaughnessy, Le Sueur County Public Health director. “Health care providers can make that assessment and use their judgment on whether or not they think one of their patients needs to be tested.”

According to the Northfield Hospital press release, “MDH helps providers make the decision whether to test a patient for COVID-19, based on specific criteria. MDH encourages providers to first test patients with symptoms for other respiratory illness like influenza.”

How COVID-19 spreads

According to the CDC, individuals with COVID-19 may begin displaying symptoms between two days and two weeks after exposure. Lovett said there’s not enough information at this time to determine whether a person is contagious even when they are not symptomatic, but she noted that with any respiratory illness the likelihood of transmission is highest when symptoms are present.

“That’s when they’re spreading the most viruses because that’s when they’re having the most sneezing, coughing and fluids,” she explained.

On its website, the CDC noted that there have been some reports of the new coronavirus spreading before people show symptoms, but that it’s not thought to be the primary means of transmission.

Currently, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, between those who are within about 6 feet of each other and when an infected person produces respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing — these can then land in the mouths or noses of bystanders and be inhaled into the lungs.

The beginning of community spread means that more people will become infected with the virus in one area, without being able to easily identify how or where they might have been exposed to the disease.

As more testing is being done across the state, Le Sueur County’s Shaughnessy added that she’s been told to expect additional cases.

When to get tested

Andrea Ahneman, communications planner for the Minnesota Department of Health, said March 11 that over the prior week and a half, the number of cases being tested per day had increased as capacity ramps up and testing becomes more common. Lovett added that a number of commercial labs will also likely be coming online soon to test swabs for COVID-19, but that she’s unsure of the exact timeframe.

While the oral and nasal swabs necessary for the test are fairly common and easy for clinics to order through their regular supply chain, there has still been a limitation over the past few weeks to the number of tests that can be performed, according to Timothy Sielaff, Chief Medical Officer at Allina Health.

“There’s not a limitation to testing for those who meet the criteria,” he explained, “but if we started having people who were well coming in who were worried, that might overwhelm the system.”

He also noted that this limitation will likely go away in the near future, as the country adapts to dealing with the novel virus. While he noted that the situation is evolving every day, at this point, he said there would be no reason to try and schedule a test while not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

“One of the public health benefits of that is then you’re saving the access for people who are ill and do need testing,” said Sielaff.

Briggs mentioned the same sentiment at a recent press conference, adding that emergency care providers are also continuing to process accidents and other sudden illnesses. According to Briggs, the infected individual in Olmsted County was sent home to self-isolate due to the mild nature of their symptoms and was told to notify providers if anything changes.Preventative measures

In order to avoid contracting the virus and necessitating testing, Lovett reiterated the importance of following basic hygiene practices. These include washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more on a regular basis, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren’t available, avoiding any face-touching, cleaning frequently-used surfaces daily, covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow or tissue, and more.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” reiterated Sielaff. “If you’re unwell, but not short of breath and not experiencing the more severe systems, self-isolation is a good option.”

According to Betsy Spethmann, Northfield Hospital and Clinics communications director, self-isolation should last 14 days to account for the maximum amount of time that it may potentially take COVID-19 symptoms to develop. She also noted that people living with someone in isolation should take added precautions, including using a separate bedroom and bathroom if available, making sure that shared spaces have air flow either by an air conditioner or open window and other steps recommended by the CDC.

The patient should wear a face mask around other people and refrain from handling any animals in the home. To date, the CDC notes that there have been no reports of companion animals contracting or spreading the disease, although it’s believed it initially emerged from an animal source in China earlier this winter.

For additional guidelines on prevention, symptoms and treatment, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/. The MDH has also set up a COVID-19 hotline, which will be available at 651-201-3920 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.

If you believe you should be tested for COVID-19, call your health care provider to talk through your situation and make arrangements before going to a health care facility in person.

COVID-19 and its spread has caused fear and uncertainty across the globe. To ensure our community has the latest information on this public health threat, APG Media of Southern Minnesota is providing stories and information on this issue in front of its paywall.

Steele County discusses 2nd Amendment Sanctuary movement, information only

OWATONNA — The debate over tighter gun control regulations are heating up — across the country, around the state and in Steele County.

During the regular meeting of the Steele County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, the public spoke out in both support and opposition of declaring the county as a Second Amendment Sanctuary, with both sides professing that they were speaking on behalf of public safety.

Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions — resolutions which state that the county, city, or township making the declaration is dedicated to defending gun rights — began in Illinois in response to proposed gun measures, then spread rapidly in other states. More than 400 communities nationally have now adopted such resolutions. According to the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, six counties in the state have passed sanctuary resolutions, all in the northeastern part of the state with the exception of Wright County, which is directly northeast of Minneapolis.

It’s a “pushback to the metro-centric vision for creating additional barriers, additional hurdles for gun owners to jump through in order to exercise their rights without actually having any effect on public safety,” said Rob Doar, political director for the Minnesota Gun Owner Caucus.

Those proposal include expanded background checks and red flag laws that let family members or law enforcement petition to a judge to temporarily remove guns from someone deemed a risk to themselves or others. The DFL-led Minnesota House passed both measures in February, although they are all but certain to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Polls show many, if not most, Americans support red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders. But they spark fierce opposition from advocates of gun rights who see them as government overreach.

The Steele County commissioners made no decision either way on Tuesday regarding whether or not they wanted to adopt a sanctuary resolution. County Administrator Scott Golberg stated that they simply wanted to give the public a platform to express their views and interact with the board after Bill Cuevas, a founder of the Steele County 2A Coalition, requested that the commissioners pass a sanctuary resolution in February.

“There was no formal decision or even a formal motion to table it. It was just an opportunity for the issue to be discussed publicly which is what the board wanted,” Golberg explained. “They also wanted to convey a certain message to the public, which is that this is an issue that should be taken up at the state level, not at the county level.”

In reality, the resolutions passed have only been a “symbolic gesture” as they have no true legal effect, according to Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of opinion. It’s just a matter of law that the county board is not authorized to prohibit the enforcement of state laws, just like the country board couldn’t enact universal background checks,” McIntosh explained. “On either side of the issue, the county board really just doesn’t have authority there.”

McIntosh further added that both he and the Steele County sheriff have sworn an oath and have an obligation to uphold the Minnesota and the U.S. constitutions regardless of any resolution that the county may pass.

“I don’t think the board, myself as an elected official or the sheriff wants to take a side on this or wants to downplay anybody’s advocacy on this issue,” he continued. “It’s just a matter of where is your advocacy most effective, and it’s probably not with the county board.”

Commissioner Greg Krueger agreed with McIntosh, noting that the job of the county board is to enact policies, not pass laws.

“I can see both sides of this issue, I really can, and there are things on both sides of the issue that I don’t necessarily agree with,” Krueger stated. “But to be honest, this is not where your battle should be. Your battle should be in St. Paul. That’s where this needs to be taken up.”

Krueger provided copies of all the state and federal legislative offices that represent those living in Steele County and encouraged people — on either side of the issue — to contact their legislators regarding gun laws and regulations.

“We cannot hamstring our county attorney and our sheriff because they have to follow the state and federal laws. What we say has no effect on what they do,” Krueger added. “This will not get resolved on this level.”

Steele County Sheriff Lon Thiele made a public announcement prior to the board meeting on Tuesday, stating that local law enforcement does not have the authority to ignore federal laws, but that he believes the gun laws current in effect are adequate.

“We have a lot of responsible gun owners in Steele County. This is about the right to bear arms, but to do it legally,” Thiele wrote. “I strongly support our citizens’ right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Gun ownership and the possession for the law-abiding citizens is not a privilege. It’s a right.”

The commissioners took no action on a sanctuary resolution as the agenda item was information only. Golberg said that he will be doing research on other counties in the state who have opted not to allow the item on the agenda and perhaps bring something to a committee for board consideration that will better outline the purpose of the board of commissioners.

“Some of those counties have adopted some type of a resolution or policy or just something more official that outlines what the county board will address and if they will adopt resolutions or declare proclamations and what areas that they will do that for and what areas that they won’t,” Goldberg explained. “It could be a general blanket understanding so that when there is an inquiry that comes forward we can refer back to this.”

Eye-witnesses describe shooting, identify Blooming Prairie man in Vegas homicide

LAS VEGAS — Three eye-witnesses positively identified a Blooming Prairie man as the shooter in an incident that left one man dead at a Las Vegas truck stop late last month, according to a police report.

Mark Allen Doocy, 60, of Blooming Prairie has been charged with murder with use of a deadly weapon in the Feb. 28 slaying of Dennis Hopkins, 40, at the Love’s Travel Shop in North Las Vegas. An autopsy concluded that Hopkins died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the report said.

Doocy was arrested March 4 at the Flying J Truck Stop at the Interstate 35/Highway 19 interchange west of Northfield in an SUV that was also identified by the witnesses as the vehicle that, according to the report, Doocy drove to and from the scene of the shooting.

The witnesses included Hopkins’ wife, Ashley Hopkins, who told investigators that the incident began when her own vehicle “had died” in an intersection and her husband was using his vehicle to jump start hers.

“While parked at the intersection, Ashley [Hopkins] observed a person she has known for the past several months as Mark Doocy, who pulled up next to Dennis Hopkins’ vehicle,” the report says.

The two men engaged in a “verbal altercation,” according to the report, though the nature of the dispute was not detailed. Nor did the report say how Dennis or Ashley Hopkins knew Doocy. It does say, however, that at some point in the altercation, Dennis Hopkins told his wife to call 911.

A second witness told police that he heard Doocy say “he was going to his vehicle to retrieve a firearm,” to which Dennis Hopkins reportedly told Doocy to “go ahead,” according to the report.

After Doocy got the gun from his vehicle — described as a black GMC Envoy with Minnesota plates — he began to chase Dennis Hopkins around to the passenger side of Hopkins’ vehicle, at which point Hopkins got into his vehicle, the report says. Doocy then reportedly began shooting into the vehicle through the windshield, striking Dennis Hopkins in the right side of the chest. Hopkins managed to get out of the vehicle through the driver-side door and began to run as Doocy continued to shoot at him, the report continues. At that point, Dennis Hopkins collapsed in the desert.

Doocy then reportedly got back in his vehicle, drove first to the area where Hopkins lay in the desert, then fled the scene.

Physical evidence gathered by police at the scene corroborated the statements by Ashley Hopkins and two other people who had witnessed the incident, according to the report. That evidence included five 40-caliber cartridges in front of Dennis Hopkins’ vehicle, four additional cartridges located in the street in the same direction that Hopkins was reportedly running, a bullet strike in the front windshield and a blood trail from the driver’s side front seat to the place where Dennis Hopkins’ body was found.

Investigators also had photographs of a vehicle — one taken by one of the witnesses at the scene, the other from the motel that Doocy was said to frequent in Las Vegas — that fit the description of the vehicle and that, according to the license plates on the vehicle, was registered to Doocy.

When discovered by deputies at the Minnesota truck stop, Doocy was inside a parked SUV — the same one identified in the Las Vegas police report. When he did not respond to law enforcement, members of the area’s tactical team used a chemical aerosol and other non-lethal tactics, but he continued to be non-compliant. After a four and a half hour standoff, officers entered the SUV and extracted Doocy. He was arrested and hospitalized briefly for treatment.

He was transported to the Rice County Jail last week and is being held on a Nevada warrant pending an extradition hearing.

Over the last several years, area farmers have struggled with low crop prices and fickle weather. Loans from the Rural Finance Authority are designed to provide farmers with the help they need to get through tough times. (Daily News file photo)