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Area feels impact of coronavirus policies

By Staff | Mar 20, 2020

Although no coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Pierce County, local residents are feeling the effects of changes to their daily lives caused by government mandates and economic conditions resulting from the national emergency.

Local healthcare providers, schools and government agencies have taken a proactive stance to lessen the potential impact an outbreak of the virus would have on the community.

Strategies for schools and city facilities focus on “social distancing,” or staying away from groups larger than 10 people in social settings.

Churches implement changes

Several Rugby churches are implementing changes to limit social contact. Bishop John Folda of the Fargo Diocese issued a statement Wednesday canceling all Masses in parishes in the diocese, which includes St. Therese the Little Flower parish in Rugby.

A letter written by Folda on the diocese website read, “The current COVID-19 health crisis has led to extraordinary measures being taken throughout the world. As Catholics, we have a serious responsibility, not only in charity, but in justice, to prevent the spread of this disease to those who are most vulnerable. As a result, I have made the difficult decision to cancel public celebrations of the Mass, sacraments, and parish events during this challenging time.”

Folda said funerals and wedding celebrations would be limited to 10 people.

Stacy Lunde of First Lutheran Church in Rugby told the Tribune Sunday church services would be pre-recorded, then broadcast on Rugby radio station KZZJ and streamed on the church’s Facebook page for worshipers to follow at home. Wednesday Lenten services, quilting groups and other group activities at the church have been canceled.

Calvary Evangelical Free Church has canceled all events, including services. Pastor Mike Lundberg said he will continue to preach and his sermons will be carried on KZZJ Radio and Facebook Live.

The Tribune reached out to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Restoration Ministries and Rugby’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No one at the churches was available for comment on the changing coronavirus protocols and their impact on their congregations.

Schools to make adjustments

Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff said this week’s school closures by Gov. Doug Burgum and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction meant lots of adjustments for school personnel and families of students.

“I think for us, we’re just reacting with the information we have at the moment. Some of it we kind of caught wind of Sunday afternoon that there was going to be some school closures coming,” McNeff said Tuesday.

“So, we’re planning as we go. We’re doing big time environmental cleaning. We shut the place down. Currently, the governor is expecting to try to reopen Monday,” McNeff added.

“I think we’ll have an update Friday (about plans to re-open schools), hopefully sooner than that,” he added.

McNeff said the school was following public health guidelines to prevent the virus’ spread on campuses. “We’re just spending a lot of time cleaning the facility, keeping people out of the facility. We spent yesterday meeting with different groups of staff,” McNeff said. “We have essential staff reporting right now – secretaries, custodial staff, food service. We’re currently developing a plan to deliver meals to students who need it.”

McNeff said he hoped a plan to have cold school breakfasts and lunches available through deliveries or pickup at Rugby High School would be in place later in the week.

McNeff said school personnel were developing ways to meet the needs of students learning from home by surveying their households to see what kind of technology the homes have.

“We also have some training – because we need to have teachers develop some lesson modules for kids – that’ll start Wednesday and Thursday of this week,” McNeff said

“Staff will be doing those in small groups,” McNeff added. “By Thursday afternoon, we’ll have some information for parents on our school website. We’re funneling all our information to our district Facebook page and district website. We have a revamped website that is giving coronavirus updates, so that’s a great way to stay in touch.”

“I will do a video update on our district Facebook page that afternoon to walk through how to use what we’re going to do for kids,” McNeff noted. “The idea behind it is not new learning , it’s extended learning – kind of cross-curricular projects that kids can do at home.”

McNeff summed the best way to keep students’ minds active at home: “Read,” he said.

District librarian Jessica Fritz agreed.

In a written statement to the Tribune, Fritz said, “Right now I suggest looking at Heart of America library and getting a library card and look into their Library-to-Go program. We will be releasing more information about tools parents can use. I already have resources on our library page that we have always had for kids.”

The City of Rugby issued a statement about closures at city facilities including the armory, which will not be available for public use until further notice. Rugby’s City Hall is also closed to the public until further notice, however patrons may call city offices for questions at 776-6181. Patrons may contact City Clerk Lynae Voeller for questions on garbage or water bills (lvoeller@gondtc.com); Deputy Auditor/Clerk of Court Candy Munyer for questions about Municipal Court or other inquiries (cmunyer@gondtc.com); or City Auditor Jennifer Stewart (jstewart@gondtc.com) for questions for the auditor. Payments can be made in the dropbox outside City Hall or online at www.cityofrugbynd.com.

Hospital, funeral industry address crisis

Dale Niewohner of Niewoehner Funeral Home said the funeral industry was also following guidelines issued by the North Dakota Department of Health.

Niewoehner has a hand-sanitizing station near the front entrance of the business, where he urges visitors to wash their hands.

Niewoehner said he was optimistic area residents would get through the virus crisis if they followed health rules.

“I think things will work out,” Niewoehner said. “Things always do. There’s been some talk about correlating or remembering the 1918 flu. Well, that’s 102 years ago. Medical science has had some improvements in the last 102 years.”

“I have an old funeral book from 1917-18 period from here in Pierce County,” Niewoehner said. “There were a lot of deaths here. They were all flu and pneumonia. We had 13 people who were in the First World War in Pierce County who died. Five of them died of the flu. They never left the United States.”

“So, it’s a different world,” he added. “I think if people are careful, keep themselves clean, don’t go to places they really don’t need to go to, keep off airplanes and those sorts of things, just be clean and careful, things will be better.”

Niewoehner said he planned to give an interview to a Russian television station later in the week about how rural Americans are handling the coronavirus crisis.

“I met the station owner in 1990,” Niewoehner noted.

At Heart of America Medical Center, CEO Jerry Jurena and Executive Assistant and Marketing Director Darcie Rose outlined ways area healthcare providers are addressing the crisis.

Jurena said the hospital was “receiving updates multiple times during the day. I believe the North Dakota Department of Health will be doing a conference call every day at 4 p.m. So, we’ll get information that way.”

“Both the hospital association and the long-term care association send us multiple emails daily,” Jurena added.

Rose read a statement prepared by the hospital: “As of this morning at 8:30, HAMC has done a total of seven tests,” she said.

“One of those seven is being sent off today. The remaining six have been negative,” Rose said.

“You have noticed there are screening points at the only two entrances that are open, the Johnson Clinic and the ER entrance,” Rose added.

At both entrances, Rose said, “You’ll be asked a series of questions about travel and your health conditions. If you are showing any symptoms, we ask that you not (come in) unless it is an absolute emergency and you’re having distress, but rather, call 776-5261 and talk with a healthcare professional. They will direct you as to where they would like you to come and if you need to be seen.”

“Our Maddock and Dunseith clinics have no entrance without a prior scheduled appointment,” Rose added. “People being seen there are also asked to call their respective clinics and speak to their healthcare professional.”

“We are recommending self-screening, which can be done at the North Dakota Department of Health website.”

Self-screening questions check for fever and respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.

“Our daycare is open, however, we are not taking any school-age children due to staffing. They are also being screened at the door,” Rose noted.

Rose listed events that are canceled at the facility.

“The HAMC Auxiliary salad luncheon has been canceled. The GSHS Foundation Greatest Needs Gala has been canceled; Scrubs Camp has been canceled; all public meetings, including The Journey, TOPS, HAMC classes are postponed until further notice,” she said.

“Another thing we want to recommend to people is that since we’re not asking people to come in, if you’re showing symptoms, our e-visits are available through MyChart on HAMC’s website. You put in your symptoms and a physician will call you back,” Rose said.

The March meeting for the HAMC Board of Directors has been postponed until March 30.

“One of the reasons (for the cancellation) was that due to social distancing, we’re not supposed to have more than 10 people in the room at a time,” Rose said. “We’re working on a way to have everyone call in. We’re having to do that with meetings in house as well, with management meetings and things like that.”

One of the other factors (behind the cancellation) is that our biggest room, our Fox Auditorium, has been turned into our instant command center. So, that room is no longer available to house everyone.”

Rose said the command center is “a room we have set up for department managers who have critical roles if something major were to happen.”

“We have the public relations officer, our CFO, our CEO, our supply director, our purchasing director – this is for us to meet if something happens,” Rose said. “This is where we all go to find information. This is where we go for our daily meetings, to get updated on the newest information.”

Jurena said, “What we’re trying to do is set up some scenarios or information where we can track people within our buildings – who’s coming and going, in case there is an incident that manifests itself.”

“It’s all precautionary at this point. We don’t have any issues. But if something does happen, we want to be prepared,” Jurena added.

Jurena said people should plan to adapt to the emergency measures in place for at least a 14- day period.

“According to CDC, these (precautionary measures) will go at least 14 more days. And that could get pushed out every day as new cases come to the surface or we become aware of what’s going on. That 14 days may start tomorrow, or Saturday, or whatever. But right now, we’re working on a 14- day window.”

Jurena spoke to the Tribune via conference call in his office due to a unique situation in his own home.

“Right now, I have a daughter and two grandkids who showed up from Washington to visit. There’s no school for two weeks, so they decided to take a road trip and here they are,” Jurena said.

“I thought, ‘I probably need to follow our own protocol,'” Jurena added. “I haven’t done any traveling, but I have guests in my house now who are from Washington, so I have filled out a form. We sent it in to the Department of Health asking, ‘What do I do next?'”

“It’s all precautionary at this point, but we’re going to err on the conservative side instead of the lenient side,” Jurena said.

Jurena recommended any Pierce County resident with visitors from areas affected by the virus contact the North Dakota Department of Health for guidance as well.

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