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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely Community Health Center could re-open soon as COVID restrictions ease

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/21/21

ELY – The Ely Community Health Center hopes to reopen its weekly free medical clinic services by the end of the month.“We had planned to reopen on April 8, however because of the recent …

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Ely Community Health Center could re-open soon as COVID restrictions ease


ELY – The Ely Community Health Center hopes to reopen its weekly free medical clinic services by the end of the month.
“We had planned to reopen on April 8, however because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Ely we pushed the reopening back to Thursday, April 29 at the earliest,” Jon Erickson, ECHC executive director, told a virtual Tuesday Group gathering last week.
The fully-licensed free health clinic has operated here for ten years. Weekly free medical clinics have been held virtually for the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic. “We hope to open back up this month for actual physical examinations, assuming that Ely can get its act together on (COVID) case counts. Things are not looking pretty right now both in the state, Midwest and in the country in general,” he said.
“There will be a registration process as well as some specific COVID-related procedures, including mask-wearing by both volunteers and patients, but we hope to finally have the clinic opening on the calendar as we start to exit this dark period that has existed over the past year,” Erickson said
ECHC continues to review the reopening timetable based on weekly COVID case counts in the Ely, Babbitt and Tower areas.
“About a month ago, I was starting to feel very optimistic, Erickson said. “We were starting to do a really good job of getting vaccinations out. People were social distancing and wearing (protective) masks, but somewhere in the last four weeks we lost our GPS. We reverted to where we were last Thanksgiving.”
In the middle of April, he said, the country is in the beginning stages of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This wave has the potential to be the most devastating. We have the tools to deal with the virus, but we’re just not hanging on long enough. We are doing extremely well in St. Louis County in getting the vaccinations out, but we need to do a better job with masking and social distancing and using common sense with interactions in larger groups,” he said.
Erickson said new variants of the coronavirus, especially the U.K. variant, are posing new problems for younger people.
“We run the risk of even more mutations,” he said. “The whole idea is to minimize the amount of transmission so the virus can go into a kind of hibernation.”
Those who are hesitant to get vaccinated will undoubtedly contribute to a failure to achieve herd immunity in this country and in the world, according to Erickson.
“That is a real problem. To the extent that those who have talked to friends and loved ones about getting the vaccine, try to engage them to look at the evidence that exists. We have vaccinated more than 100 million people in the U.S. so far and we are not seeing significant reactions or problems,” he said.
Despite local headlines that pronounce Ely’s spike in COVID cases is easing, Erickson said the local community remains at a high risk of the coronavirus virus remaining unchecked for the next several weeks.
“We need to tamper this back down,” he said. “We were doing so well with one or two cases each week for a long time. We just got complacent.”
In the midst of closing the ranks, the Ely school community sent students home for a couple of weeks, but jumped right back into the high-risk category this week with not only sending kids back into the classroom, but going full bore with spring sports activities.
“To me, this is a very troubling time and I hope our community can rally around this, and get back ahead of the wave,” Erickson said.
He said the future could include periodic COVID-19 booster vaccinations, much like an annual flu shot.
“It could be incorporated into the same process,” he said. “We should accept that masking, in certain situations, will continue for a long time.”
2021 Initiatives
In addition to the plan to reopen the Health Center on Thursday, April 29, semi-monthly vitals health checks will be available at the Ely Senior Center on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, beginning May 19, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on those days. No reservation is needed.
ECHC obtained a grant from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to provide innovative oral health care solutions for up to three years, according to Erickson.
“We have also received a significant in-kind donation of three modular dental offices,” he added.
The clinic, located at 111 S 4th Ave E, hired a recently retired hygienist, Peggy Stolley, as their Director of Dental Services.
“We are looking to open the Ely Community Dental Center on Wednesday, June 2. We will be confirming this date in the near future as well as the registration process and the location,” he said.
The monthly dental clinic, featuring basic oral health care services and procedures will be performed by a dental hygienist, under the supervision of local dentists, Dr. Frank Udovich and Dr. Crystal Chopp. It will begin in June, Erickson said.
“We are getting tremendous support from our dental community, and we will have the capacity to meet the needs of the uninsured and the medical assistance needs patient,” he said.
A healthy-eating-for-seniors program is slated to begin June 21.
“Cooking demonstrations, healthy eating advice, food budget planning and other information will be available in an in-person format,” he said. “All the participants will receive a bag of food at each of the classes so they can prepare their own meals at home.”
ECHC is working with local markets on how to develop the program, he said.