Health, education and policing were topics of a video conference last Friday hosted by the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

It was held in response to the coronavirus pandemic and dealt with how community leaders, business owners and local employees can stay connected.

The meetings are part of a series that will feature several community leaders as guest speakers.

On April 3, three key leaders – Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, Alexandria Superintendent Julie Critz and Eddie Reif, Alomere Health’s director of community relations and development – spoke to more than 170 business leaders that were invited to the virtual meeting.

“The Alexandria Area Economic Development board wanted to take some proactive measures to ensure that we are a platform for connection and information in our community,” said AAEDC Director Nicole Fernholz.

“People are hungry for real information that is valid and relevant and our office is a natural fit to be that resource. We are in this together, and it’s important to understand not only what our businesses need to survive this challenge, but what we as a community can do to rally behind one another.”

Plan in place

Wyffels said the highest priority is keeping the community as safe as possible. He has a plan in place for staffing issues shall they arise and is in constant contact with the mayor and others at city hall.

The police chief has had conversations with Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen and said they will cover for each other if necessary.

Wyffels advised people to stay home or be smart about it if they need to be out and about. He said people need to work together (from a distance), and be kind and respectful toward each other.

“I don’t want to rule this with an iron fist,” he said.

People have to be deliberate when it comes to social distancing and need to abide by the six-foot rule. He said people can be on the trail, but not in big groups or hand-in-hand with each other.

His police officers won’t be throwing people in jail for not abiding by the social distancing rule. They will stop by businesses that appear to be open and if need be, will ask them to quit conducting business if they are not deemed essential. Wyffels said he knows of some businesses that may appear open, but are using this time to do deep cleaning and/or renovations.

“The perception is there, but most people are social distancing,” he said. “We have a great community.”

Wyffels said his officers want to be visible during this pandemic, but he doesn’t want people to presume that something is wrong. Although people are spending their time inside with one another, he said the number of domestic violence cases is about the same as usual.

He said people are more stressed, but that resources are available and people should reach out when they need help.

Wyffels’ biggest piece of advice during the stay-at-home order is to do just that: Stay home.

School changes

Critz said all school staff members have been working hard and that they are dedicated and diligent about working through the distance learning model.

The school district purchased an additional 200 Chromebooks for students, and now all students in grades 1-12 are equipped with the necessary technology.

On the internet side, Critz said the school district has worked with several partners to get internet connections to their students. About 50 students were able to get cell phones purchased through AT&T for 99 cents to use as internet hot spots. The phone itself is not active, but is only used as a way to provide wireless internet.

Food service, she said, has been providing between 3,600 to 3,800 meals, both breakfast and lunch, each day to students. Buses are running daily helping with the delivery of meals.

Childcare is being offered to those the governor deemed as children of emergency workers at Woodland, Voyager and Lincoln elementary schools. About 60 to 80 children receive child care each day. The kids are not in large groups, but are in groups of five or less.

Each day when they arrive, the children have their temperatures taken and parents have to answer a series of questions.

“Everything is going well, but we are certainly open to improvements and suggestions,” said Critz.

As for summer activities, prom and graduation, no definitive plans have been made as of last week.

Preparing for surge

Reif provided a brief update on the hospital, where officials have been meeting on a daily basis, some via video conferencing, preparing for a predicted surge. Although there is nothing definitive, Reif said a surge in COVID-19 cases could possibly happen later in April or early in May.

Currently, no visitors are allowed inside the hospital and anyone, including employees, who come into the hospital are screened. Access points have been scaled down to just the main entrance. People entering the hospital have their temperature taken and just like the school district, are asked a series of questions related to their health.

Everyone is also masked when they come in, Reif said.

He gave a shout out to Helping Hands of Alexandria and the community collaboration and effort taking place in making masks for the hospital, as well as other places in the community.Local manufacturers and dental offices have also been providing the hospital with personal protection equipment (gloves, masks, etc.).

If other groups want to donate any PPE’s, they should contact Reif at Alomere Health at 320-762-1511.

He also talked about options available for patients, including e-visits as well as the newly-operational video visits.

As things progress, the hospital is in constant contact with the Horizon Public Health, the Minnesota Department of Health and other health organizations.

Reif concluded by saying that everyone should keep practicing social distancing and then repeated the words of Dr. Deb Ditttberner: “Be calm. Be wise. Be kind. Be brave. And remember, this is more of a we than a me.”

For more info

The meetings are recorded and will be posted on AAEDC’s website, livingalexarea.org/covid-19/. That site also has the most up-to-date resources for business owners as they navigate through COVID-19 information. Anyone who has questions or needs assistance can call the AAEDC office at 320-763-4545 or send an email to Fernholz at nfernholz@alexmn.org.

The next video conference is set for Wednesday, April 8 at noon. Speakers will be Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz, Mayor Sara Carlson and Douglas County Emergency Director Julie Anderson. They will discuss COVID-19 actions and readiness information for this area.