Rumors about local people testing positive for COVID-19 and how those people are being treated are circulating in the community.
To set the record straight, The Journal asked four of the area's largest employers to address rumors about COVID-19. Rainy Lake Medical Center and the city of International Falls have shared information to help provide facts about the local COVID-19 impact. Koochiching County officials are expected to share more today, and last week a spokewoman for Packaging Corporation of American's Boise paper mill provided information about its response to COVID-19. Further information about rumors at the mill has not yet been provided to The Journal.
Robb Pastor, CEO of Rainy Lake Medical Center, said employees who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 at Rainy Lake Medical Center are getting the full support of RLMC.
"The staff are now in quarantine receiving care and treatment as necessary for their recovery," he told The Journal Monday.
In addition, he said RLMC has notified all employees and are following guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as RLMC's internal procedures.
"We recognize that COVID-19 has been in our community and have gone to great lengths to implement recommended precautionary measures since the pandemic started," Pastor said. "In early April, we added universal masking for all employees in patient care areas to further reduce any risk. We will continue to follow our standard operating procedure for exposed employees."
Pastor said the health and safety of RLMC employees and the community continues to be its No. 1 priority.
"The ongoing precautions we are taking every day will ensure that it continues to be safe to come to the hospital and/or clinic for care," he said.
International Falls City Administrator Ken Anderson told The Journal the city has no employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.
The administration's preparedness plan, approved by the council earlier, notes: Workers have been informed of and encouraged to self-monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Workers are expected to stay home if sick and if an employee falls sick at work, they are asked to inform their direct supervisor, and go home. Compliance with all recommended precautions are encouraged and expected at all times for employee safety.
Protections against COVID-19 were quickly put in place for staff of Packaging Corporation of America's Boise Paper mill and its surrounding community, a local mill spokesperson told The Journal last week.
Lori Lyman told The Journal the mill protections included immediate discontinuation of all non-essential business travel, limitation of visitors and vendors, and prohibiting anyone into the mill that has traveled by air in the last two weeks, including employees.
The company also took additional steps to assist employees, she said.
"Employee financial barriers to staying home were eliminated when PCA offered temporary pay replacement to employees who may be sick or quarantined due to the coronavirus," she said.
She said the mill adhered to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for sanitizing the mill, and developed additional cleaning and disinfecting check sheets, which are implemented several times per shift.
The mill contracted with a company using viral disinfecting equipment and has since bought its own equipment to continue the process, Lyman said.
Other protections in place include making face masks, along with comfort straps, available to employees; posting maximum occupancy signs in break rooms and elsewhere in the mill; and distributing COVID-19 information booklets to employees.
In addition, Lyman said employees who can work from home are doing so.