Northern Minnesota counties, tribes rally to get out consistent COVID-19 message

The Arrowhead Region Public and Tribal Health Group is made up of 11 counties and tribal public health agencies, and is united in the message that now more than ever its community members need to "make difficult decisions" to stop the virus.

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St. Louis County joined 10 other county and tribal public health departments Monday in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 through consistent messaging to schools and airwaves.

"With COVID-19 spreading at an uncontrolled rate throughout the region and more school districts shifting their learning models, public health staff from 11 county and tribal public health departments have partnered to present a united message about the difficult decisions that need to be made," a joint news release said.

Public health staff from Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties, along with public health agencies from Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage and Mille Lacs bands of Ojibwe tribal governments, make up the collaboration.

The group is stressing the importance of keeping family gatherings to immediate family members, being mindful that one's "bubble" may be larger than a person thinks, and considering alternate options to gathering during the holidays — such as visiting through a video platform or postponing celebration activities.

"COVID-19 doesn't stay within geographic boundaries, and neither do our public health efforts to slow the spread," Tracy Gilsvik, public health supervisor with Lake County, said in the news release. "We are working with neighboring counties and tribal nations to learn from each other and amplify our voices."


The groups have been meeting twice weekly to share information and combine sources to help each other under the banner of the Arrowhead Region Public and Tribal Health Group.

"In rural Minnesota, we recognize how scarce our resources can be, and duplication of efforts does not help to provide the most efficient work for our counties, tribes and most importantly, our community members," Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health division manager, said. "We are all in this COVID-19 effort together."

The group has produced a flyer sent to all school districts in the region to share with families.

It has also released a radio public service announcement about how people can each do their part to slow the transmission of COVID-19. The school flyer highlights the fact that students’ ability to physically attend school and participate in sports depends on the decisions that community members make.

“When it comes to keeping our students and community safe, having consistent messaging for our greater region is key,” Michelle Janowiec, a Carlton County Public Health nurse, said. “(W)e take that messaging from what we know works based in science and guidance from the state.”

The group agreed that now more than ever its community members need to take necessary precautions, "not only to get students back in school and protect vulnerable loved ones, but also do their part to not overwhelm health care systems by keeping our medical response staff healthy."

“The collaboration has extended far beyond the original plan of developing unified messaging for community partners across the region,” Aubrie Hoover, a St. Louis County senior public health educator, said. “Over the past several weeks, the group has also become a common place we can turn to for additional resources. It is easy to reach out to the group to ask for examples of communication or safety plans, and within a day have several examples of what others have done from multiple communities across the region."

The messaging provided by the Arrowhead Region Public and Tribal Health Group is based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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