TOWER-SOUDAN- A resident of the Tower-Soudan area tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first-known case in the communities. The individual, who has not exhibited symptoms, sought testing on May …
TOWER-SOUDAN- A resident of the Tower-Soudan area tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first-known case in the communities.
The individual, who has not exhibited symptoms, sought testing on May 22 after a family member came down with possible symptoms of the virus. The individual, whose other family members have all tested negative, is now self-quarantining and will remain in isolation until further testing shows no further evidence of the contagion.
The individual was employed at three places deemed “essential” during the COVID pandemic: at the Vermilion Country School, as an EMT for the Tower Area Ambulance Service, and as a delivery driver for the Timberjay.
All three workplaces were notified immediately after the individual received word of the positive test on Sunday.
The test result prompted Interim Tower Ambulance Director Dena Suihkonen to cease operations of the ambulance for a time on Sunday, so a professional cleaning service could complete a deep cleaning of the fire/ambulance hall, the ambulance rigs, and the Tower Civic Center, where members have been attending meetings and trainings.
Suihkonen also notified all the service’s EMTs and First Responders, and worked with the ambulance service’s medical director and Virginia Ambulance Chief Al Lewis on developing a plan for the situation.
“We let Virginia Ambulance know,” said Suihkonen, “and we sent a first responder kit home with our on-call personnel so they could respond to the scene if the ambulance was called out.”
No ambulance calls came in during the shutdown, and the rigs were back in service by the evening, Suihkonen said.
The service also contacted local medical clinics to make sure they were aware of the positive test in the community. Tower Fire Chief Paige Olson also worked with Suihkonen on the plan, which includes new protocols requiring fire and EMS personnel to wear a mask in the fire/ambulance hall if more than one person is there, except in cases where they are members of a single household.
“We consider our crew to be our family,” Suihkonen said. “But now our ambulance personnel will be wearing a mask as soon as they enter the hall, once in a rig, and keep it on until they are back from a call and in their own personal vehicle.”
Suihkonen said the department received fabric masks from the Ely Care Team but will be needing some more.
Tower Mayor Orlyn Kringstad said he wasn’t surprised that Tower-Soudan was experiencing a case.
“We are taking this seriously,” he said, and said area residents have to be careful with the surge of visitors coming up to the area at this time.
“We all have to be vigilant,” he said.
Tower City Hall, which had reopened last week, is again closed to the public, Kringstad said, with only the two city clerk office employees, keeping appropriate distance from each other, in the building.
Vermilion Country School Administrator Frank Zobitz said the charter school building is closed for now, and that all school staff are getting tested.
School staff had been working at the school building, and while they did have their work stations set up more than six feet apart, they were in a shared space during the day.
“Some have already gotten tested,” Zobitz said on Tuesday, “and the rest will be soon.”
The school sent out an email over the holiday weekend to all parents and students, notifying them of the positive test.
“If you, or someone in your household, exhibits COVID-19 related symptoms, please notify me so we can track any potential outbreaks within our school community,” he wrote.
The positive test means the school’s at-home graduation ceremonies are being postponed, until the school is certain that no other staff tests positive. The school had planned to do individual graduation ceremonies at each of the graduate’s homes the week of May 25.
“We did hear back from one parent already,” Zobitz said, “and they were just hoping that everyone at the school is safe.”
The school will be using substitute van drivers and substitute teachers and staff to help with the student food deliveries this week and next. Zobitz said none of these individuals have been working in the school building or had contact with the individual who tested positive.
The individual also worked part-time as a delivery driver for the Timberjay but did not work in the upstairs Timberjay office.
“We are very lucky that this individual was wearing a mask when doing deliveries of the paper,” said Timberjay publisher Marshall Helmberger. “They also were always wearing a mask while upstairs in our office.”
The Timberjay has been told by medical officials that the risk to our staff is minimal, and that employees should only be tested if they are exhibiting symptoms or feel the need to be tested. So far, no employees at the newspaper have exhibited symptoms. The Timberjay has notified all the vendors that the individual was in contact with while doing deliveries last week.
As of May 26, there were a total of 21,960 positive cases in Minnesota and 114 in St. Louis County.