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Waseca’s Callie Dufault competes Thursday in a Big South Conference meet in Waseca. Dufault took second place in the meet and the Bluejays won as a team. (Nick Gerhardt/

Waseca County sees dramatic increase in community spread of COVID-19

The numbers don’t lie, but they might need a little interpretation.

Waseca County saw a spike in its case rate per 10,000 people after the Minnesota Department of Health last Thursday released the latest data for the two-week reporting period of Aug. 9-22. Waseca County’s rate ballooned to 37.75 after the previous two-week period saw a 22.33 case rate per 10,000. Waseca recorded the highest case rate per 10,000 in the state for Aug. 9-22. Neighboring Le Sueur County had the second-highest rate with a 36.81.

Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry attributes the sharp increase to community spread. Her department hasn’t seen any workplace outbreaks within Waseca County yet.

Some in the community have looked at the Federal Corrections Institution in Waseca as a culprit. FCI-Waseca, which houses 614 female inmates, has reported 51 active COVID-19 cases among inmates and four among staff. Six inmates and two staff members have recovered from COVID-19. The Bureau of Prisons updates its numbers daily and its website says the bureau is ramping up efforts to test asymptomatic inmates.

As of Tuesday, Waseca County reported 338 lab confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths. But not all of the case numbers at the prison are reflected in the total number for the county, Berry said.

Around 30 percent of the prison cases are counted in the county’s number now, Berry said. There is a snag between the federal system of reporting and the state system of reporting so those federal numbers aren’t entirely transferred through to the Minnesota Department of Health, she said.

Though significant, the prison numbers aren’t the only driving force behind the recent surge.

“When we look at our county numbers right now, they are not fully included and do not at all account for all of the cases that we’re seeing,” Berry said. “We have lots and lots of community spread and that’s driving our numbers.”

Three of the deaths in the county have come from congregate living situations, like nursing homes, and all those who have died had underlying health conditions. Of the 338 lab confirmed COVID-19 cases, 266 have recovered. Twenty-two cases required hospitalization and 21 have been released from the hospital.

Waseca County’s case rate per 10,000 is likely to increase for the next reporting period as well. The rising case rate per 10,000 has already prompted Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school districts to modify their school plans to begin the year in distance learning for older students. Waseca Public Schools has a School Board workshop meeting scheduled for Thursday where the topic is expected to be discussed.

What community spread looks like

When someone develops symptoms and stays home, they expose the rest of the household to the virus. Those exposed to the virus can also develop symptoms, which increases the numbers in the county.

“When we have shared households it can be difficult, depending on your living situation to prevent your loved ones from becoming ill,” Berry said. “We do see households impacted and that’s certainly had an impact on our county numbers.”

Waseca County reported 94 total COVID-19 cases for August. Forty of those cases had known contact with an infected person while the other 54 did not know of any exposure with a known contact.

How to drive the number back down

Berry might sound like a broken record when it comes to ways to drive the number back down, but following the guidance is the best advice she can give. She urges people to wear a mask when you’re with people outside your household, even at outdoor events. People need to stay 6 feet apart from those outside their household and people need to get tested, she said.

“We do know that people have been doing activities like weddings, funerals, showers, birthday parties, and sometimes, especially when we’re related and we don’t share a house, we feel more comfortable and safe than perhaps we should.”

Remembering Gary Deml: businessman, philanthropist and family man

Gary Deml left a memorable legacy on the community of Waseca and all who knew him.

He died on April 24 at the age of 67 after his battle with cancer. The family is having a celebration of life on Sept. 20 from 2-5 p.m. at the State Street chapel of Dennis Funeral Home that is open to the public.

His family described him as a kind, compassionate, hard-working, loving, smart and funny family man.

“I’ve been treasurer of the golf course for 44 years and so I have had a lot of experience with a lot of business people throughout the community and probably the best businessman in my career is Gary Deml,” Waseca Lakeside Club Treasurer Steve Jaycox said. “He was not only a good businessman, but a very giving person and he supported all kinds of different fundraisers and he was just excellent for the community as a giver. When I think of Gary I think of Gary the businessman, Gary the family man, because I’d say the number one importance in his life was family and a man of faith. That’s how I see Gary Deml.”

Gary was a member of organizations and boards around the state and in the Waseca community.

Some of the boards included: Ford’s National Dealer Council, Chairman of the Twin Cities Ford Dealer Advertising Fund Board and President of the Waseca Lakeside Board.

In the Waseca community he was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus.

His children Mike Deml, Brad Deml and Kristin Varholdt said Gary felt strongly about supporting Sacred Heart Catholic School where his grandchildren attended. He committed to supporting his community, including the Waseca Fire Department, Waseca Police Reserves, Waseca Sheriff’s Posse and the Waseca County Veterans Memorial.

Gary was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves with an honorable discharge in 1976. After his discharge he returned to the family business: Deml’s Garage, that his dad started in Claremont, which is where Gary was born and raised. In 1983, he decided to sell the business and Gary opened a car dealership in Waseca that is still serving customers today: Deml Ford Lincoln.

“Gary had an entrepreneurial spirit that turned his dealership into a widely respected and prosperous family business,” Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Fitch said. “I think when your children want to work for you and then alongside of you, it speaks volumes about what kind of father and owner Gary was. He and his wife, Laurie, quietly gave to so many area nonprofits and those in need. They did this without accolades, but rather to make sure others were taken care of. Their generosity was boundless.”

Working with their dad was something Mike Deml and Brad Deml always wanted to do.

The brothers said there was no question that they were both going to be in the car business with their dad. They have always shared his passion for the car business, which started at a young age when they set up dealerships in the basement and played cars. Their dad prided himself in being able to do and teach every job at Deml Ford. He was an incredible mentor and they all enjoyed working together. Even though Kristin wasn’t in the family business, she sought their dad’s advice for interviews, management questions and overall business. He was always supportive and willing to listen and advise. Together they enjoyed growing the business to what Deml Ford Lincoln is today. Gary enjoyed being at the dealership and considered everyone at Deml Ford to be his family.

Gary taught his sons every aspect of the business from his experience and knowledge. He was well known for believing in hard work, attention to detail, integrity and being an innovator and he would accredit his father Milo Deml for his start in business and work ethic that carried him through life.

Outside of work and his community involvement, Gary spent all of his free time with his wife Laurie Weber, who he married May 10, 1975 and his family. He played card games such as Old Maid or Go Fish with his grandchildren or they built LEGOs along with having them visit his office. With both his children and grandchildren he liked to build LEGOs, bird feeders, derby cars, miniature car dealerships, tractors, power wheels, doll houses and other assembly projects.

He also enjoyed boating, watching the Vikings, bicycling, watching movies, traveling to Florida and other activities.

“He would always race out of the dealership to attend extra-curricular events,” Varholdt said. “He looked forward to taking vacations with his family including his favorite quick trip to the Dells many summers. He was always thankful for the company and conversation of many good friends.”

Gary spent his life helping others and enjoying time with his family and friends.

“He left a void in this community absolutely,” Jaycox said. “A huge void that’s hard to fill.”

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton supplied all students in the district with Chromebooks, which make distance learning simpler. For the beginning of the school year PreK through sixth grade are in-person learning and seventh through 12th grade are distance learning at home. (County file photo)

Waseca schools welcome back students in a safe environment

Planning for the new school year during a pandemic created challenges on how to provide education to students safely.

Schools created cleaning plans to keep the schools sanitary for students and staff.

The cleaning plans for the Waseca Public Schools were created based on the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“It’s going to be a strict adherence to following the Department of Health recommendation and I just really hope that parents are patient with that,” Waseca Junior Senior High School Nurse Deb Wobschall said.

With the rising number of cases in Waseca County the district makes quick decisions on if students need to distance learn full time or if being in school is safe.

“I want parents to know that I think this has been less about trying to get everyone to do our jobs,” Waseca Public Schools Building and Grounds Director Collin Green said. “It’s been a very personal effort for every single member of Waseca schools, all of us. Every single person has been taking this on, because it’s not about a paycheck, it’s about making sure the kids are safe and have a place to get educated and that’s the goal.”

Students and staff will be required to wear a face mask in the district buildings and are to follow social distancing rules to the best of their ability.

In all 187 learning spaces in the district there will be hand sanitizer available to use when entering or exiting the space. Each room will also have a spray bottle filled with soapy water to keep spaces clean and cleaning wipes. This can be used to clean desks before students rotate rooms for the day.

Breakfast and lunch will be eaten in the students classrooms when possible. When the meal is over there are large waste cans in the halls so students can clear their space, which will then be cleaned using the soapy water and paper towels in the rooms.

The school district also provided each staff member with personal protective equipment, PPE.

Each staff member received a face shield, a cloth face mask. N95 face masks were given to the staff more likely to work around a potential exposure. Every student will also get a cloth face mask and extra disposable face masks will be on hand for those in need.

“We have taken the steps of making sure that all of our staff is aware of what it is they should be doing to keep the school as the safest as it can possibly be when it’s occupied,” Green said.

The schools will be cleaned daily, with certain high touch areas cleaned more often.

According to the plan created by school staff the main entrance doors, water fountains, handrails, tables and chairs in common areas and other items will be cleaned at least twice a day. Desks, phones, computers, door handles inside and outside and other items will be cleaned at least once daily. Desks, door frames, tabletops, cabinet handles, sinks and other items will be cleaned one or more times a day. Bathrooms and items in the bathrooms will be cleaned at least two or more times a day.

Items that are not easily cleaned and are porous are removed from classrooms due to being difficult to keep clean. This could be rugs, furniture, toys and other items in classrooms.

The Waseca schools have a heating ventilation and air conditioning system, HVAC, that allows for all classrooms to have fresh air exchange ventilation systems with a fresh air exchange rate. This helps keep the air circulating in the rooms for students as an additional safety measure.

PPE supply

PPE supplies are in high demand from schools, bus companies and other necessary businesses due to COVID-19. With the high demand it has been difficult to find the needed supplies and to get them efficiently. Luckily in Waseca, Green and the staff prepared and ordered supplies ahead of time.

“I do feel like we are well supplied for the beginning of the school year,” Green said. “We have worked hard with using a formula approach to making sure that we can order enough supplies with a safe margin so that if we start to use the supplies faster than anticipated we have given ourselves enough time to order more. ... We’ve taken a lot of good ideas from all of our custodial staff, from our teachers and paras, it’s been a really collaborative approach to find the best approach that we are meeting our mission of educating kids safely. Also being mindful that we’re spending other people’s money, it all comes from our tax dollars and we really want to be responsible with that so we want to make sure that we have data driven ideas and make sure that we are able to meet those needs.”

The PPE supply expense adds up so the Minnesota Department of Education created the Coronavirus Relief Fund and Waseca schools qualified for the funding.

Waseca schools were awarded just over $493,000 to be used specifically for PPE needs.

“It’s money that we already committed toward the buying of PPE, buying of different cleaning equipment, purchasing of quantities that we never thought we would ever be buying in such a short time frame,” Green said.

The school district worked diligently to create the safest environment for the staff and students to start the school year with the needed supplies.

“It’s an illness that we are taking very seriously,” Wobschall said. “We want to work to follow the Minnesota Department of Health and CDC and keep the kids and staff as safe as we possibly can. We’re all in this together. Everybody is trying to take this seriously and keep people safe and healthy.”