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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Coronavirus cases rise at Bois Forte

Area restaurants remain closed

David Colburn
Posted 8/26/20

TOWER- What was three late last week has climbed to six as of Tuesday, as four Bois Forte Band members on the Vermilion Reservation and two at Nett Lake are now in isolation after testing positive …

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Coronavirus cases rise at Bois Forte

Area restaurants remain closed


TOWER- What was three late last week has climbed to six as of Tuesday, as four Bois Forte Band members on the Vermilion Reservation and two at Nett Lake are now in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, and the tribe has activated its emergency plan to try to contain the virus.
Bois Forte Community Health Nurse Teri Morrison announced the initial three Vermilion cases in a video posted to the tribe’s Facebook page Friday morning. Two are in their teens and one is in their forties.
“All of these cases are tied to a single exposure that occurred off the reservation,” Morrison said in the video. “The individuals are currently under isolation at their homes.”
Morrison was back with another video on Saturday, announcing that two additional COVID-19 cases, one a teen and the other in their forties, had been identified, bringing the total to five. One of the new cases is at Vermilion, and the other is at Nett Lake.
A sixth case, a person in their 60s at Nett Lake, was announced by Morrison on Tuesday.
Prior to the announcement of the sixth case, tribal chairwoman Cathy Chavers addressed the outbreak in a message posted on the tribal website.
“We are in the process of implementing our emergency plans due to the positive cases in Nett Lake and Vermilion,” Chavers wrote. “If people want to be safe, please stay home. That is the best way. We knew at some point the virus would come to Bois Forte.”
In their separate communications, Chavers and Morrison both emphasized that the affected individuals were in mandatory isolation, and contact tracing has led to others being quarantined who were in close contact with the infected people. Bois Forte Health Services has been coordinating with the Minnesota Department of Health and Indian Health Service to respond to the situation.
Chavers also emphasized that “None of the exposed individuals have been to the casino or were exposed to workers in the casino.” In the Aug. 22 note, she also said that all the cases to that point had originated through contacts off the reservation.
The tribe’s first COVID-19 case in mid-June led to the tribal council enacting strict penalties for anyone in isolation or quarantine who knowingly violates those orders, which in cases of multiple violations could result in the loss of all tribal benefits for five years and a $2,000 fine.
“We want people to know this is a serious issue,” Chavers said at the time. “We have a lot of elders and a lot of high-risk population out there that in the event individuals leave their quarantine residence, it poses a serious threat to all the members of our reservation.”
Chavers is now one of those people in quarantine, having come into close contact with one of the affected individuals.
Chavers said that the tribal government office in Nett Lake was closed due to a positive case there. While public access remains restricted, some workers have returned to the building and others are working remotely from home to continue services. The DNR, RTC, and fitness center facilities also have been closed.
Vermilion and Nett Lake health clinics and pharmacies remain open but have modified their operations. Health and dental clinics are not accepting walk-ins, and only one parent or guardian can accompany a child or vulnerable adult for appointments. The pharmacies have implemented curbside service for people needing to pick up prescriptions.
The Bois Forte Head Start program announced that it would delay the start of its school year for two to three weeks beyond the scheduled Sept. 8 opening.
The tribe is also working with the Minnesota Department of Health to schedule a mass testing event.
Restaurant closures
As of Tuesday, four area restaurants remained closed temporarily “for the health and safety of our employees and our customers.”
The closures began Thursday, Aug. 20 when Tower-area eateries The Vermilion Club and Bayview Bar and Grill posted similar notices on their Facebook pages about 5 p.m. indicating that the restaurants would “temporarily close” for the health and safety of their employees and customers.
About four hours later, the Wilderness Grill at the Wilderness golf course at Fortune Bay also posted a temporary closure notice to Facebook.
A reliable source told the Timberjay that the closures are due to a kitchen staff member who worked at multiple locations and tested positive for COVID-19.
Saturday afternoon, T. Pattenn Café in Orr was the fourth area restaurant to close temporarily for health and safety concerns. Contacted Monday by the Timberjay, owner Tara Patten said that the closure is precautionary.
“There is no COVID case in house,” Pattenn said. “We just are trying to be safe and keep it from being in our house and café. Many of our customers’ workplaces are taking precautions, so with that we are following with our own precautions. We want to do our part in keeping all of our family, employees, and patrons safe.”
Fortune Bay Director of Sales and Public Relations Brian Anderson said that Wilderness Grill staff responded immediately when informed of the positive case, closing the grill and implementing extensive cleaning. Professional cleaners were also brought in, Anderson said.
Per tribal rules, all Wilderness staff who had prolonged contact with the employee who tested positive were sent home and told to self-quarantine for 14 days, Anderson said.
Anderson also explained why the outside grill at the Wilderness remains open.
“The food cooked out there (i.e. hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats) does not come from the kitchen,” he said. “They are stored in an outside cooler. The Wilderness does have other staff to cover the outside patio and they can use Fortune Bay staff to step in as needed to assist.”
Anderson said the response at the Wilderness is reflective of Fortune Bay’s overall strict health and safety emphasis to protect the resort’s customers and staff.
“We are taking this pandemic very, very seriously, and are doing whatever it takes to keep our guests and staff safe,” Anderson said. “We have staff in place to specifically clean, wipe down, and disinfect high touch areas throughout our property. Guests cannot make it past the checkpoint at the main entrance if they have a temperature of 100.4 or higher and they are required to wear masks at all times, unless they are in their resort room or in one of our outside venues. If a guest refuses to wear a mask, they are asked to retire to their resort room or to leave the property outright. We all have to realize that we’re in this together and have to do our part to get through this pandemic.”


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