COVID fatigue: A new term becoming common in late 2020.

It is just what it sounds like — a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting caused by all that is and has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As local schools monitor county positive rates, and a smattering of businesses temporarily close due to the virus, Koochiching County health officials say now is not the time to let down our guard.

They say everyone can play a role in whether area schools and businesses stay open, by fighting against COVID-fatigue and complacency, and continuing to wear masks, staying socially and physically distant, and washing your hands.

Anything less will prolong the pandemic, causing more limitations to regular life, they said.

County Public Health Director Kathy LaFrance, Supervisor Derek Foss and John Decker, Red Cross volunteer and long-term care provider, met with The Journal mid-October to discuss the correlation between recent holiday gatherings and an increase in the rate of positive COVID-19 cases locally.

They said at those gatherings oftentimes, people are not wearing face masks.

“The highest incidence of spread is community spread, so if people are not wearing masks, we are going to get a lot more,” LaFrance said.

The concern about keeping schools open and reducing exposure to the virus surrounds staff and faculty more than the students, she said.

“Keeping our schools open and running is not just about the students and whether they are getting COVID, it’s also about the staff and whether the school has enough staff to staff classrooms when teachers and other professionals in the building are having to quarantine or isolate because of exposure,” she said. “We heard loud and clear from the schools that probably their bigger risk than COVID actually being in the classrooms and being in the school, is staff having to quarantine and then not having replacements for those staff.”

Teachers and school staff are often connected through marriage and family. “You could potentially be taking a whole family, could be taking out a couple of positions in the school, when you have an exposure,” LaFrance said.

The three health professions encouraged members of the community not to give up on wearing masks, distancing and using good hygiene.

“It really is important for everyone to do this,” LaFrance said.

“As cases go up, it prolongs where we need to be,” Decker said. “How do we turn this new norm into a norm and be safe in how we do it?”

Local progression

Decker, who is a member of the local Emergency Response Team, charted the rise in COVID-19 cases for a Koochiching County perspective, starting from the beginning of July when local cases began to rise and COVID fatigue began settling in.

Decker said shutdown measures were put in place in early spring, before COVID-19 cases were in the area.

“It took so long to get here, by the time it got here people were already tired of hearing about it, and that makes it hard,” Decker said of COVID fatigue.

July 4 weekend, Koochiching was at level of 14 cases.

Then the holiday prompted gatherings, and a major escalation of positive cases were recorded over the next month. “It’s very apparent, and you would expect that would happen,” Decker said.

July 25 the state mask mandate went into effect, Koochiching was at 55 cases.

“We saw a dramatic difference in this rise, into the mask mandate,” Decker said. “We went from around 54 cases, and increased rapidly, and over the next month we dropped down to 20 cases after the masking.”

Decker said the local curve flattened over that time frame.

“That entire end of July all the way through August and into September. It flattened dramatically,” he said of the rate of increase.

School started and Labor Day weekend, Koochiching was at 96 cases.

“Then a one or two week lag, and now (Oct. 12) we are seeing the results of that,” he said.

What’s working

Some may wonder if the mask mandate has had an effect on the number of positive cases, Decker said, because the cases are going up now.

“There’s a compliance issue, or a willingness to comply,” he said. “And the main reason we’re willing to comply is a willingness to help. By not helping, it’s prolonging this.”

LaFrance agreed, adding Gov. Tim Walz did not want to punish people with the mandate.

“He wanted it to be a way to educate and hopefully get people’s buy in to do what’s right and to do what’s helpful (to reduce the risk of exposure to others),” she said.

“It is your right to make some decisions, but this decision is not about you,” she said. “It’s about everybody else. It’s about keeping vulnerable people safe, keeping our schools open, our businesses open, it’s about all those things. It is not about you as a person, whether someone is trying to take away your rights.”

Decker said rights come with responsibilities.

“How do you educate the humanitarian aspect of it?” he said, adding that he recently encountered someone in public who said they were not wearing a mask because they were not sick.

“You are wearing it for somebody else,” Decker said, adding he takes that idea personally, as the leader of a long-term health facility, a local health care professional, and Red Cross volunteer. By wearing a mask, he said people can help seniors in care facilities continue to be able to have visitors.

His Red Cross experience has taught him to think of CDC, which stands for cover, distance, clean. And it’s works, he said, as evidenced from his disaster response to Hurricane Laura. He said the first three weeks he was assisting, no volunteers came home with COVID-19.

“We were in the hardest hit COVID areas in the South, and our teams just complied — cover, distance, clean — and we didn’t come back with one positive case, and we were working in COVID environments all day every day,” he said. “It works, it just really works.”

Meanwhile, encounters with people who are not wearing masks in public settings may not be a good idea, they said.

Instead, LaFrance encourages people to talk about masking up and helping the situation with family, friends and neighbors to keep it fresh in everyone’s experiences.

“Not that it should rule your life, or you should live in fear, you are just aware and you do what you need to do to help the situation, not make it harder for other people,” she said.