WTIP’s ongoing coverage of coronavirus in Minnesota

This story was first published March 12, 2020 and continues with up-to-the-minute information.

Responding to the spread of coronavirus, WTIP is following this story on a local, regional, state and national level.

WTIP will share updates frequently on the airwaves, including during Daybreak from 7-8 a.m. Monday through Friday, North Shore Morning between 8-10 a.m. Monday through Friday, the North Shore News Hour at noon and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and at noon on Friday.

We will also share updates periodically throughout the day every day of the week between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Below please find the latest news and links to our most recent news coverage about COVID-19, the new strain of coronavirus:

June 4, 9:30 a.m.
COVID-19’s death toll continues its rise in Minnesota, with the total number who have died from the virus now well over 1,000 since the pandemic began.

WTIP asked Sawooth Mountain Clinic’s Dr. Kurt Farchmin how healthcare professionals stay focused on their role in helping people as the general public and news media are often so consumed by statistics when it comes to the new coronavirus. Hear that discussion and much more in this interview.

May 29, 6:50 a.m.
A recent Associated Press survey of all 50 states found a hodgepodge of public information about the purchase of masks, gloves, gowns and other hard-to-get equipment for medical and emergency workers. For example, Minnesota publishes a biweekly online COVID-19 report detailing the prices and quantities purchased for personal protective equipment.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Sawtooth Mountain Clinic CEO Kate Surbaugh for the latest on COVID-19 prepation in Grand Marais and Cook County.

May 26, 8:55 a.m.
As the coronavirus continues to impact so many different aspects of life for people here in Cook County and throughout the state of Minnesota, one question that continues to loom in the background of day-to-day discussions is when and how will the local economy recover?

It’s a question on the minds of nearly everyone in the local business community, as well as those who live outside the area and are anxious to plan their next trip to the North Shore.

At the heart of the question is how do we balance community health, both physical and mental health, while giving consideration to a local economy that relies on tourists visiting the region?

Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, it’s likely Cook County and the North Shore will start seeing more people visit the area as more businesses and lodging sites start to reopen.

During a community conversation program that aired on WTIP in April 2020, Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek issued this statement summarizing the situation facing the North Shore of Lake Superior and its local economy.

May 21, 11:20 a.m.
As COVID-19 tends to become a political conversation in some circles, WTIP asked Sawooth Mountain Clinic’s Dr. Kurt Farchmin how healthcare professionals stay focused on their role when it comes to handling the ongoing pandemic. Hear that and much more in this interview.

May 15, 8:30 a.m.
It was a busy week at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, here is the latest on testing and other information about COVID-19.

May 5, 2:30 p.m.
The Cook County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been selected to host an AmeriCorps service member for the upcoming summer.

The AmeriCorps member will serve as a support within the Cook County EOC for 10 weeks as part of the Minnesota AmeriCorps Emergency Response Initiative (ERI). The individual will provide full-time support, working to address food security issues as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. The service member will receive a living stipend of $650 every two weeks from AmeriCorps.

“We are excited to be hosting an AmeriCorps member within the EOC,” said EOC Incident Co-Commander Grace Grinager. “With such a high percentage of our population struggling to make ends meet, this is an important public health effort: we want to make sure that we are supporting our community’s ability to access healthy food. This is an excellent opportunity for someone who wants to get involved and support our community during this challenging time.”

The AmeriCorps member selected will be supervised by Grinager and will help reach out to agencies that already address hunger in our community. The goal is to add capacity to their efforts in order to meet the growing need for services.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Grinager about this topic and other updates from the EOC.

April 30, 9:40 a.m.
Below is an update on the COVID-19 planning and preparation in Lake County in northeastern Minnesota. The same as in Cook County, as of the last day in April, there were still no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Lake County. In this update, Lake County Administrator Matt Huddleston discusses news from the local hospital in Two Harbors and health center in Silver Bay about their preparations for dealing with the virus. Huddleston also shares news on the most recent meeting of the Lake County Board of Commissioners meeting from April 28, including information about the Clair Nelson Memorial Forest near Finland.

April 28, 10:30 a.m.
In this update with Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager, we hear her thoughts on social distancing and why that is important regardless of what Gov. Tim Walz does with the Stay-at-Home Order currently set to expire May 4.

Grinager also talks with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about the latest in testing for Cook County and Minnesota, as well as the latest in any potential ‘reopening’ of certain parts of the local economy.

April 23, 10 a.m.
As Cook County and other parts of the North Shore start to look closer at slowly reopening various sectors of the local economy, including resorts and other lodging facilities, a number of questions remain regarding the potential spread of COVID-19 throughout the community.

As tourists start to arrive in May and into the summer months, local healthcare facilities are considering scenarios for visitors to the area and what could unfold if they start to exhibit symptoms associated with COVID-19 while they are in Cook County or the nearby area.

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic CEO Kate Surbaugh discusses this topic and other important news regarding COVID-19 in this update.

April 20, 9:10 a.m.
In this interview, Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager discusses how county officials are communicating with senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also shares an update on a newly formed task force in Cook County focused on how the process of reopening the local economy will look as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease, possibly as soon as the month of May.

April 16, 8:40 a.m.
Hear the latest on COVID-19 and community health in this interview with Dr. Kurt Farchmin from Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.

April 10, 5:40 p.m.
The Grand Marais Holiday Station Store posted to its Facebook page today that they will be temporarily closing their convenience store due to a suspected COVID-19 case.

The post states: In order to ensure the safety of our employees and customers, we will be closed until further notice to sanitize the store. Please stay tuned for updates.”

Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager acknowledged that one business did announce this afternoon that it will be closing for three days out of concern for staff members.

“Again, we have no confirmed cases in Cook County,” Grinager said in a statement sent to WTIP at 4:30 p.m. today. “Tests will continue to be administered over the weekend, and we will notify the public if any COVID-19 cases are confirmed here.”

WTIP reached out to Courtney Quaife of Mike’s Holiday in Grand Marais and she stressed the station/store is closing due to a suspected case. Quaife said the store has “someone” who has been tested for COVID-19 and results are pending.

Grianger adds that “in an abundance of caution, the Holiday made an independent business decision to close due to concerns over an employee who called in feeling ill. This was not a recommendation from the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, North Shore Health, or Public Health and Human Services.”

Because it takes so long to get the test results, Quaife said they are erring on the side of caution and closing to do a comprehensive cleaning of the store, following guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health. “We are following those guidelines to a ‘T,’” said Quaife in a phone interview.

Quaife added the closure is in keeping with the Holiday company’s plans to deal with a possible COVID-19 case. She added that all local businesses should have a plan in place to deal with eventuality.

She said Holiday has been in contact with officials at North Shore Health and Public Health and Human Services and they have been reassured that there is low risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the store, however, she said they are taking no chances and closing for the deep cleaning.

Quaife reiterated the store’s Facebook message, saying, “We are deeply sorry for any inconvenience this may cause anyone but safety for our customers and staff is our No. 1 priority!”

Customers may still get fuel at the pumps with a credit card, following the recommended Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for such use.

April 8, 9:10 a.m.
There remain no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cook County, according to local healthcare officials. The results for approximately 40 tests for the coronavirus have been completed with the results coming back negative in Cook County.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Dr. Kurt Farchmin from Sawtooth Mountain Clinic about the latest on the coronavirus testing and other related topics specific to Cook County. Listen to their conversation below.

April 3, 11:40 a.m.
Cook County is without a ventilator and will not be getting one during the coronavirus pandemic, explains the local hospital administrator based in Grand Marais in this interview.

April 2, 10:15 a.m.
The Cook County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) launched a comprehensive COVID-19 website this week.

The website provides a centralized location for up-to-the-minute information on local, state and national data, according to county officials. There are links to local healthcare websites, EOC media releases, the MN Department of Health website, the Center for Disease Control’s website, and a variety of additional resources.

The site also contains a number of apps with information on everything from local grocery store operations to take-out options and school meal delivery.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke Interim Cook County Administrator Rena Rogers about the new county COVID-19 comprehensive website and other county news, including the latest on the recycling center in Grand Marais.

April 1, 8:30 a.m.
It was announced on the last day of March that Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon, a popular event for many runners from Cook County and the North Shore area, has canceled its weekend of race events, scheduled for June 19-20, due to coronavirus concerns. This is the first time Grandma’s Marathon has been canceled in its 44 years.

It was also announced this week that the Cook County Le Grand du Nord bike race scheduled for May 23 is canceled. Learn more about that decision in this interview with Jeremy Kershaw, one of the race’s organizers.

As the new month arrives, WTIP’s coverage of COVID-19 continues, including this interview with Kate Surbaugh, the CEO of Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.

March 28, 9 p.m.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit announced today that it has received a report of a second confirmed case of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, in the region.

According to a CBC report, health officials said an individual in their 20s, who returned from the United States approximately two weeks ago, developed symptoms while self-isolating at home.

According to the Thunder Bay health agency, the first positive case involves a man in his 60s who lives in Thunder Bay. The health unit said in a statement Friday that his spouse is considered a probable case as well, and that the couple had recently returned from a week-long stay in Florida. According to the CBC report, the couple was in isolation at home when they became ill.

The man’s test result was received on March 26. The spouse’s results are still pending and have been expedited.

Public health nurses are working with the individuals to determine who else might have been exposed when the individuals were infectious and potentially transmitting the virus.

Under the Canadian federal Quarantine Act, an order issued this week by Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of health, directs all returning travelers to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to Canada and provides for significant penalties if this is violated.
There currently 151 positive COVID-19 cases in the province of Ontario.

By mutual consent, the U.S.-Canadian border was closed to cross-border traffic, except for emergency exceptions on March 18.

In related COVID-19 news in Minnesota, there are 441 active cases in the state as of March 28, including an employee at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth.

According to the Duluth News-Tribune, on March 27, St. Luke’s confirmed that an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
St. Luke’s spokesperson Melissa Burlaga told the News-Tribune that the employee’s COVID-19 was travel-related and “not a result of their work at St. Luke’s.” All of the employee’s close contacts have been notified, but Burlaga did not know if any of the contacts were patients.

On March 26, St. Louis County officials shared information on the other two cases in the county, two women in their 20s. Their cases are linked. Both are recovering at home, according to the county. It is not yet known how they contracted COVID-19.

St. Louis County’s first three individuals were reported to have been infected through domestic travel and not community transmission.

As of March 28, the Minnesota Department of Health reports that 441 people have tested positive; 220 of them no longer need to be isolated; 57 people have needed to be hospitalized, with 30 currently in hospitals. Five people have died.

No confirmed cases have been reported in Lake or Cook counties on the North Shore.

March 25, 9:40 a.m.

There remains no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cook County as of 8 a.m. March 25, according to local healthcare officials. There have been 31 tests for the coronavirus done in Cook County to date, with 22 tests coming back negative, while nine are still pending.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Dr. Kurt Farchmin from Sawtooth Mountain Clinic about the latest on the coronavirus and testing in Cook County. Listen to their conversation below.

March 24, 10:30 a.m.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a countywide travel advisory today recommending that visitors and seasonal property owners remain away for the time being.

The commissioners referenced a high percentage of elderly people among local, permanent residents and the lack of medical infrastructure as reasons for the travel advisory restrictions.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk noted that the advisory is not a resolution or enforceable by law enforcement.

Cook County has a limited health care infrastructure and needs to be focused on local at-risk adults while the ever-changing and serious health situation involving the coronavirus continues, the commissioners agreed.

No timeline on the travel advisory was set during today’s meeting.

March 23
Joe Friedrichs spoke this morning with Cook County Public Health Coordinator Grace Grinager for a Covid-19 update. Interview highlights include: the first coronavirus tests in Cook County came back negative, more personal protection equipment is on the way, and where people can look for mental health resources during this challenging time. Listen to the interview below.

The mental health website discussed, Let’s Talk MN, can be found here.

March 21, 2020 – 3:30 p.m.

From the local chamber of commerce regarding local businesses closing their doors, including those in the lodging industry.

The board of directors of the Cook County Chamber strongly applauds actions taken by non-essential businesses, including most Cook County lodging properties, to begin the process of shutting their doors to guests for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The board also strongly urges all non-essential businesses that have not yet started winding down to begin that process immediately.

During the board meeting-by-phone Saturday morning, several members offered the use of the facilities and staff to help manage this crisis, all at no cost to the county. The offers included use of empty lodging for those who require quarantine but not hospitalization, use of kitchen facilities and staff to prepare food for whatever need arises, and use of personnel to backstop county employees who are overwhelmed by work. County Board Chair Myron Bursheim and Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers were on the call and expressed gratitude for the offers. While not needed at the moment, they noted, they very well might be critical as this develops.

The chamber board recognized the complicated and painful process shutting down will involve for businesses, including many owners and managers of lodging properties. The board noted it will be especially complicated for housing complexes that are governed by homeowners associations whose members are scattered far and wide. But the board concluded that closing is a critically important step in the battle against COVID-19 and should be taken as soon as possible for the following reasons:

Gov. Tim Walz has been edging closer and closer to declaring that all Minnesotans should “shelter in place.” When that declaration is made, guests at lodging establishments as well as guests visiting residents in Cook County should be already home or on their way. The governor is likely to give a day or two before the order takes effect, but unless lodging managers and residents wish to be responsible for their guests for the next several months of increasing isolation and hardship, they need to see those guests on their way now.

The medical staff at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and North Shore Health has urged this action as a critical step in ensuring the county health care system is not overburdened as they begin to receive and treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

“With Gov. Tim Walz already urging Minnesotans to stay home, with a shelter-in-place declaration due soon, and with our local medical institutions urging this action, it just makes a great deal of good sense for all non-essential businesses to prepare their properties to close down in an orderly but urgent manner,” said Jim Boyd, executive director for the chamber. “We are gratified that most owners and managers have recognized that reality and taken action to close.

“We all grasp how difficult this action is, for owners and staff. The incomes of many families will be destroyed, and the future of numerous businesses will be endangered. This is an extremely difficult action we request. But it is the right thing to do, for our guests and for the people who call Cook County home. To those who must leave, we say, Godspeed.”

March 21 – 11:23 a.m.

The first case of coronavirus has been reported in St. Louis County, home of Duluth, Ely and other nearby communities.

St. Louis County officials said a woman in her late 60s is the first case in northeast Minnesota. She is currently recovering at home, according to county officials.

Officials did not say where in the county the woman lives.

Also from today, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today reported the first confirmed death of a Minnesota resident due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The death occurred March 19 in a Ramsey County resident in their 80s who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was the contact of an earlier confirmed case.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports that as of March 21, there are 138 confirmed cases in Minnesota.

March 20 – 9 a.m.

As we report daily on WTIP, the number of positive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to climb in Minnesota.

As reports of the virus continue to move north across the state, a question facing local business owners and business leaders in the community is what is the right approach for Cook County with regard to the main source of the local economy, that being tourism.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Linda Jurek, the executive director for Visit Cook County, and with Jim Boyd, the executive director for the Cook County Chamber of Commerce, about this topic and other local business news regarding the coronavirus.

March 19 – 10:10 a.m.

Tests for COVID-19 have been done in Cook County, results are pending, according to local healthcare officials.

“We have collected samples, but we do not have any results yet,” Dr. Kurt Farchmin, a physician at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais, told WTIP March 19.

There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Cook County as of 8 a.m. March 19, according to Farchmin.

Local providers can order COVID-19 tests and collect specimens here, following their own clinical judgement and guidance from the state, according to Grace Grinager, the Cook County public health coordinator. Tests are then sent to regional lab facilities. The time to receive results varies but takes at least three days, Grinager told WTIP.

There are national shortages of testing supplies, so there may be delays in processing results, according to Farchmin and Grinager.

Anyone who wonders if they should be tested should call the clinic directly for further guidance.

And while there are currently no lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cook County or the Arrowhead region at this time, the Minnesota Department of Health does believe that the number of total cases in the state is higher than the lab-confirmed total and that the virus is circulating in communities. It is important for everyone to follow advice on community mitigation and social distancing to help us slow the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

Regarding capacity should the coronavirus become widespread in Cook County, North Shore Health (the local hospital) has 16 hospital beds and one transport ventilator to assist with patient transport to a higher level of care if the need arises, Grinager told WTIP. With the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state, staff within the local medical system are working extremely hard to maximize the limited resources to ensure that they can continue to provide high-quality care to the people who need it, when they need it most, she added.

Tests for the coronavirus can be done at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. However, Farchmin and other healthcare officials are urging anyone who thinks they might have COVID-19 to call the clinic prior to arranging any testing for the virus. The phone number to call is 218-387-2330

Farchmin spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs on the Daybreak program about the tests that have been done in Cook County, when results are likely to come in and what comes next with regard to COVID-19.

March 18 – 12:29 p.m.

Grand Portage National Monument’s Heritage Center is closed until further notice.

Employees at the Grand Portage National Monument announced the modifications to operations to implement the latest guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and local and state authorities to promote social distancing.

As March 18, Grand Portage National Monument’s Heritage Center is closed until further notice. Where it is possible to adhere to the latest health guidance, park grounds and site trails will remain open.

According to information sent to WTIP, the National Park Service is working with the federal, tribal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.

March 18 – 9:30 a.m.

Cook County officials are recommending a 14-day home quarantine for Cook County residents who are returning from travel from overseas or from a high-risk area where there is community transmission of coronavirus in the U.S. (currently California, New York and Washington state). This includes all travelers from the Grand Marais school trip to Costa Rica.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus that has not been found in people before. In early 2020, this virus is making daily headlines internationally and across the United States, including here in Minnesota.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Cook County Public Health Coordinator Grace Grinager about travel, self-quarantine planning and coronavirus testing in Cook County as of March 17.

March 16 – 6:50 p.m.
All Cook County and North Shore restaurants, coffee shops, bars, taverns, the local YMCA and other businesses will shut down temporarily following the order by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The measure, made to halt the spread of COVID-19, will go into effect at 5 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, March 17) and will last until at least March 27. The order from the governor is expected to allow some local businesses to still operate if they choose, but as takeout-only.

Click here for a list of restaurants, bars, and other businesses offering curbside pickup and/or delivery along the North Shore during this time.

In addition to restaurants, the list includes breweries, wineries, fitness centers and museums.

A question often asked by WTIP listeners: Can I get tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) in Cook County?

Here is the answer to that question from local healthcare professionals: “We can collect lab specimens locally, but then the state lab at the Minnesota Department of Health processes them and sends results back to us.

Local clinicians use state and national standards (based on a patient’s risk factors and symptoms) to guide their decision-making to test for COVID-19. If, following these guidelines, a provider deems testing necessary they collect a specimen using oral and nasal pharyngeal swabs and send it to the Minnesota Department of Health Lab. Results are returned within three days.

I think it is important for listeners to understand that you can’t just walk into the clinic and ask for a test. The providers at the clinic and hospital have strict screening guidelines to aid in their decision making as to when a test would be appropriate.”

Full story here:

North Shore Health takes steps to prevent coronavirus

More stories here:

Cook County Health Coordinator talks local planning coronavirus

For a video update hosted by the local business community, click here.

For more on the coronavirus in Minnesota, click here.

To visit the Centers for Disease Control website, click here.

If you have any questions about the coronavirus, including how to schedule an appointment at a local healthcare facility, proper steps regarding scheduling appointments related to the coronavirus or any questions at all related to COVID-19 in the state of Minnesota, call the COVID-19 hotline at 651-201-3920 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.