“We chose to be on the safe side and in protecting our staff to go ahead and send them for testing and all of that to reassure that everything is where it needs to be,” said Pearson in a telephone interview Tuesday. , March 23. “We didn’t have to close this week. We have chosen to close this week, and I have done so to make sure our families are safe and that all of our staff are safe as well.
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Pearson said that after learning of the COVID-19 cases on March 17, executives immediately contacted the Minnesota Department of Health for advice. Staff members who tested negative have been asked this week to get tested again, Pearson said, and an outdoor social-distancing meeting to share additional information with employees is scheduled for Monday.
The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed on Friday that its workplace surveillance team had recognized a cluster of eight cases associated with Glacier as of Monday, March 22.
“It’s rare for a manufacturer to shut down because of COVID. Normally they can stay open with a limited crew, ”said Doug Schultz, health information manager, in an email. “The shutdown is a private business decision – MDH is not asking companies to shut down – we are only asking them to follow guidelines for COVID prevention and treatment of COVID-positive employees. And we’re here to help them get out of it. ”
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Pearson knows all too well the potential dangers of illness caused by the coronavirus. He said his father had spent 10 days in a hospital on a ventilator suffering from COVID-19 and would spend the rest of his life needing extra oxygen. Pearson, his wife and four children also recently contracted the disease and he nearly needed hospital treatment himself.
“There is a personal connection to COVID with me and my family, and I see the retro effects, which can happen to someone who doesn’t know they have underlying conditions,” Pearson said. “… I have tried to share this story with my staff and the pursuit of proper cleaning, going through our daily checklists and screening all staff and our protocol, and there is no allowance for. a gray area. ”
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Between Glacier’s three factories in Brainerd and Bemidji employing 95 people, Pearson said this was the first time they were dealing with positive cases.
“It’s pretty hard for us to see how hard we’ve tried,” he said. “It affects us emotionally, everyone as a whole, but also the management team who have tried very, very, very hard.
However, this is by no means the first impact the manufacturing company has suffered during the pandemic. During the state’s initial order period, Glacier Ice House closed for almost three months, Pearson said, keeping its employees paid using a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program. The company has chosen to remain closed 30 days after Gov. Tim Walz gave the green light to reopen with a COVID-19 preparedness plan.
“I made sure that even before I closed last year, I couldn’t make that decision until I knew they had a source of income,” Pearson said. “… If we want to talk about profits, there are several million dollars that have been lost to us, closed for almost three months. But it wasn’t about the loss. It was about keeping our families safe and the parents who needed to be home with their children to make sure they got the education they needed. … They all depend on this income to run their homes as well. So the decisions we make every day affect so many lives. It’s not just Glacier employees. ”
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After peaking at 113 in early November, the total number of workplace clusters and outbreaks in all settings across the state has ranged between four and 18 since the third week of January, according to the health ministry. The last four weeks for which data is available – from February 21 to March 20 – showed that the number of affected workplaces remains relatively stable, from 11 to 14.
The median number of new workplace clusters identified each week is 28, according to the health department, which means each week of 2021 is so far below the median. For the week of March 14-20, the counties with the most workplace clusters identified were Hennepin and Olmsted counties, each reporting two.
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When comparing data collected before November 12, 2020 and since, it’s important to note that the health department has changed its threshold to define a workplace cluster. Workplace clusters are defined as at least five employees from separate households with start dates within a 14-day period. This is an increase from the previous definition of three employees.
Workplace clusters are not classified as outbreaks until follow-up with the company has been completed and evidence of workplace transmission has been confirmed. Clusters that have not been followed up or where there is only evidence of community transmission remain referred to as clusters. Outbreaks in health facilities, collective living spaces, schools and daycares are not included in the workplace data, but are tracked elsewhere.
CHELSEY PERKINS can be reached at 218-855-5874 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.