Fellow Community members,
We have seen a significant uptick in positive COVID 19 cases in Steele and Rice counties in the past week. As our state and federal leaders allow more businesses to reopen many health officials have anticipated this increase. The key components of the COVID 19 strategy have not changed: Test/Isolate/Contact Tracing.
I wanted to provide an update on our testing capabilities to date. Our primary concern is still on identifying who has the virus so they can be isolated. This is done through a diagnostic test via a nasal swab. The Mayo Clinic Health System in Owatonna has been doing this testing for 7 weeks now. In that time we have tested over 3,500 community members. We are blessed in that we have not run short of testing supplies or personal protective equipment for our staff. We do ask that people call the clinic ahead of time before showing up to be tested. The line for testing has increased substantially in the past few days and we can collect these tests much more efficiently if we can prepare for the patient ahead of time. You do not have to be an active clinic patient to be tested.
We have fielded several questions from businesses in our community about who should be tested and wondering if all of their employees should be tested as a precaution. What we know about the COVID 19 virus continues to evolve. We believe that the virus has an incubation period of 5 days and that before symptoms develop, there may not be enough virus present to give a positive result. This can result in a false sense of reassurance from a negative diagnostic test and for that reason we are currently recommending testing only those who have symptoms or who have had contact or potential exposure to someone that has tested positive. We remain in close contact with the Minnesota Department of Health on a regular basis and if these recommendations change, we will update or testing strategy.
So what can you do to protect your business? Consider screening your employees and customer before they enter your business for a fever and any possible COVID symptoms. Consider asking everyone to wear a mask. The mask helps decrease the spread of the virus from asymptomatic carriers to others. Also a short term liberalization of your illness policy should allow those with symptoms to stay home. The CDC website has some other practical suggestions for businesses. If you have specific questions for your business, our occupational medicine staff is available to advise you.
We also know that the workplace in only part of the equation for our employees and customers. Their potential exposures at home and other places in the community are also a factor. One of the biggest challenges is helping COVID-19 positive patients find housing to self-isolate if they are in living situations that do not allow for appropriate measures. We are working with our public health and nonprofit organizational partners to try and figure out what resources are available. I would suggest that you encourage all your employees to follow the safe social distancing practices at home as well as at work.
It is clear the impact of this virus is going to with us for several more months. We need to shift our thinking from “when will this be over” to “living in a COVID environment” for the foreseeable future and remember that together we are stronger.
Our Chamber has approximately 530 members that invest their resources, employee volunteerism and confidence in the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism and the business community.