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Will Wisconsin's reopening impact Minnesota? Experts say yes, but they're not sure how

Experts say the neighboring state's reopening will impact Minnesota, but they're not sure how.

Receptionist Megan Moore, right, explains to a customer that she’ll have to wait longer outside of Great Clips in Superior Wednesday afternoon, May 20. Customers that signed in online waited in their cars in the parking lot until staff called them to enter the building. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

When Great Clips in Superior opened Monday, nearly 150 people lined up to get their hair cut. The following day, even with a wait time of more than three hours, over 170 clients showed up.

The hair salon would typically see that volume of clients on an "extremely busy Saturday," receptionist Megan Moore said.

She estimates anywhere from a quarter to half of the clients were from Minnesota, where hair salons are currently closed due to executive order.

Great Clips was allowed to open thanks to the Wisconsin Supreme Court striking down Gov. Tony Evers' safer-at-home orders, which allowed bars, restaurants, hair salons and many more businesses to reopen their doors.

Increases in personal interactions at the newly reopened businesses could pose problems for residents in neighboring Minnesota, but the extent of this likely won't be known, experts say.


"There's enough cross-border traffic that I expect it will impact us. People who need to be hospitalized from Superior end up here in Duluth," Dr. Andrew Thompson, of St. Luke's Infectious Disease Associates, said.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said rapid increases in social interactions in Wisconsin could have an impact on COVID-19 case numbers in Minnesota, especially in communities on the border.

But it will be difficult to pinpoint its exact impact as numerous factors drive changes in case numbers, especially as Minnesota has made recent changes to stay-at-home orders, Malcolm said in a media call.

Receptionist Megan Moore, right, calls a customer waiting in their car as Liz Sproul looks for who is next outside of Great Clips in Superior Wednesday afternoon, May 20. Customers that signed in online waited in their cars in the parking lot until staff called them to enter the building. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

"We'd love to be able to get that granular but unfortunately I don't think we're going to ever have the ability to get that precise," she said.

Amy Westbrook, public health division director for St. Louis County, said it will take a while to see changes in case numbers if there's an impact.

"We recognize there's a lot of movement across the border, so we'll keep our eyes on (it)," she said.


Prior to changes in stay-at-home orders, Westbrook said St. Louis County wasn't seeing a dramatic increase in case numbers as people were following executive orders.

"I'm hoping that sort of thing continues on with following what Minnesota is recommending," she said.

Thompson said he is discouraged by Wisconsin's changes.

"The absence of a deliberate plan is what really discourages me," Thompson said. A "deliberate plan" would include, for example, guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, like the elderly and people living in shelters, jails or nursing homes, he said.

"They don't have the ability to really protect themselves from this. They're at the mercy of the surrounding communities. So how are we going to protect them?" Thompson said.

He added that opening bars was especially concerning, as one infected person in a crowded room could infect numerous others.

"Some of these little outbreaks in ... indoor, crowded areas are really where the risk is," Thompson said.

St. Luke's has been preparing for a potential surge for a while, Thompson said.


"We thought we were going to have cases much more rapidly than we have," he said.

If there is a surge in cases, St. Luke's is ready. The hospital changed patient flow, limited visitors and was ready to increase its intensive care unit bed and ventilator numbers, he said.

Customers load purchases Wednesday into their vehicles at Sam's Club in Hermantown. This is the only Sam's Club in the Northland and attracts shoppers from across the border in Wisconsin. Experts say the neighboring state's reopening will impact the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota, but they're not sure how. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The state Department of Health will continue to monitor changes in case numbers, especially in communities along the border, Malcolm said. They will be watching for increasing numbers, she said.

Even though people can legally be patronizing Wisconsin businesses indoors now, Thompson still recommends not going to these places, limiting interactions to family members or small groups, maintaining social distance and wearing face masks.

"Unfortunately, that is going to be how we have to exist for the near-term," he said.


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