Pandemic is a long road but finally some light, says Douglas County health leader
"I feel hopeful but watchful," Ann Stehn, administrator for Horizon Public Health, told the Alexandria City Council Monday night
The pandemic has been a long road in Douglas County and things aren't over yet, but health leaders are finally seeing some light.
"I feel hopeful but watchful," Ann Stehn told the Alexandria City Council Monday night, May 24. Stehn is the administrator for Horizon Public Health, which serves a five-county area, including Douglas.
In Minnesota, the curve of new cases is coming down. Last fall and into early winter, the state was reporting between 6,000 and 8,000 new cases a day, Stehn said. Lately, there have been several days with fewer than 1,000 cases.
"We're very encouraged by that," she said, but added that four variants of COVID-19 that began in the United Kingdom, New York and California are still circulating in the area.
Fortunately, Stehn said, vaccines, for the most part, have been "quite effective" in keeping the variants' death toll and hospitalizations down.
More good news: The number of active cases of COVID-19 are substantially down. Stehn said that right now there are only 40 active cases in Douglas County. New cases are also decreasing. In the last week, the county has only added five or six new cases a day -- a stark contrast from the 80 cases a day last fall.
The number of people getting one of the three vaccines, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer, continues to grow. Statewide, 63.5% of Minnesota's population of those 16 and older have had at least one dose of a vaccine. In Douglas County, the percent is 55.7%.
Stehn was heartened to see that 85% of Douglas County residents over the age of 65 have had at least one vaccine dose.
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Access to vaccines is much easier now, Stehn said, and is available for those aged 12 and up. She encouraged residents to contact their local health provider, pharmacy or Horizon Public Health at 320-763-6018 for more information.
Stehn said her department has received calls from those confused about mask mandates. She noted that stores and businesses can set their own policies. For those who are fully vaccinated and received their last dose at least two weeks ago, can feel confident about not wearing a mask in most situations.
Those who are not fully vaccinated should keep wearing a mask while they are out and about, Stehn said.
Stehn's final advice:
- Those who are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested, even those who think it's some other illness.
- Stay home when you're sick.
- Wash hands often.
- Give people space.
- Get vaccinated.
The council finalized an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation that will allow the Alexandria Airport to receive a $13,000 federal grant through the Airport Coronavirus Relief Grant Program.
The funds can be used for items relating to combating the pandemic, operation and maintenance, and debt service.
In another action related to the airport, the council approved a lease extension with Life Link III medical helicopter services, allowing it to use a hangar at the airport and an adjacent apron area.
The current three-year lease was $40,000 annually. It will be extended another year, followed by month-to-month after that. Adjusted for inflation, the annual amount is $42,459.
Airport Manager Kreg Anderson told the council in a memo that Lifelink has been a fantastic tenant and it appreciates the extra space it received when it moved into a new hangar in May of 2018.
“The extra space allows them to bring in a back-up helicopter and/or fixed wing turbine aircraft from the Minneapolis area, when needed,” Anderson noted. “Having their own space has also allowed them to ramp up their security as they have many narcotics and other valuable medical equipment that is sitting in the hangar ready to go when called out for a flight.”
Anderson added that as Lifelink expands westward in the long term, staff members have told him that they see Alexandria being an out-state maintenance hub for them, taking a load off of the current maintenance facility in Anoka.
The lease revenue will go into the Airport Development Fund.
The council also approved new hangar rates at the airport – the first increase in at least 15 years.
The rates, based on square footage, will range from $130 per month to $180.
The new rates will bring in about $73,440 an increase of about $10,000 or 16% from the current hangar lease revenue.
The city plans to do some “preventive maintenance” on the oldest 18 T-hangars. Some are approaching 50 years old. Anderson asked the city’s Budget Committee to consider putting aside $30,000 for the 2022 Airport Budget or Airport Development Fund to make lighting upgrades, as well as door and roof maintenance.
A project to replace the metal siding on the hangars is planned as a MnDOT project in 2024.
Ice arena construction update
The council is inviting firms to submit construction management at risk services for the $11.2 million expansion project at the Runestone Community Center.
Besides the expansion, the project may include renovating existing spaces.
The construction management firm will be part of an integrated team to make sure the scope of the work and the goals of the city are aligned through the design process. The firm's payment will be based on the overall cost of the project, plus a fee with a guaranteed maximum price.
Proposals will be accepted until noon on Tuesday, June 15.
The expansion will require multiple bid packages, and some with complicated scheduling and coordination issues that are expected to benefit from the construction management method, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.
Clubhouse request denied over parking
The council denied an amendment to a planned unit development in Woodland Heights First Addition – an item that was tabled at an April 26 meeting.
The developer, Unique Development LLP, wanted to eliminate the city’s requirement for off-street parking for a proposed community center/clubhouse, not yet built, at the corner of 10th Avenue East and Brookdale Drive. The original plan called for a daycare center.
The clubhouse, according to the developer, would have included a theater, community center, fitness center, indoor pool, shared patio space, grills, basketball court, pet center, and playground. It would be used by the tenants in the adjoining buildings.
The PUD, approved in 2016, includes three apartment buildings with a total of 144 units, along with four four-unit townhomes clustered around the easterly half of the site. Three of the buildings are open, one just broke ground and one more 80-unit building may be constructed in the near future, according to the developer.
The amendment was denied because the application fell short of providing the required 20 parking stalls. The developer's plan only had 10 stalls.
Sam Herzog, representing the developer, told the planning commission that having 20 parking stalls in a small parcel of land was not feasible and wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing. He told the commission he’d have to walk away from the project. According to the planning commission minutes, Herzog said it was very disappointing to be hung up on parking stall requirements.
Planning commission member Bill Franzen wondered if 20 parking stalls was enough to serve 600 apartment residents.
In another zoning action, Anita Ferguson received approval that will allow her to sell 12-acres of her land on the south side of County Road 82, about a quarter-mile west of County Road 45, to Ferguson Brothers Excavating.
The council approved an exception to platting so she can split the property. The land was also rezoned from residential vacant/agricultural residential to light industrial.
The excavating company has already been occupying the property since before it was brought into the city and is renting it from Ferguson.
The additional property is consistent with its existing use, said City Planner Mike Weber.
Local emergency extended again
For the 14th time since the pandemic began, the Alexandria City Council extended its declaration of a local emergency because of COVID-19.
The city first ratified the mayor’s declaration on March 18, 2020, and has been extending it monthly. This latest action extends it through June 30 – unless Gov. Tim Walz lets his executive order declaring the emergency expire before that date.
The declaration allows the city to qualify for federal funding and approve emergency ordinances that take effect immediately. It also provides greater flexibility, such as holding meetings through Zoom video conferencing. It’s separate from Walz’s executive orders for restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.