BEMIDJI -- The Beltrami County Department of Health is once again tracking more than 100 cases of the coronavirus, after monitoring one to two cases daily just a few weeks ago.
On Tuesday, during a Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting, Public Health Director Megan Heuer said her office is now tracking 113 active cases. Additionally, eight people, all unvaccinated, are hospitalized in the county, five of them being Beltrami residents.
Because of the recent spread, Beltrami County has been listed by the Center for Disease Control's "high" category for transmission, above the other levels of substantial, moderate and low. As a result, both the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health are recommending masks regardless of vaccination status.
"From our perspective, it's just one layer," Heuer said. "It's not just one thing that's going to stop the spread, it's several layers of protection we're looking at. Handwashing, staying home when you're sick, trying to keep distanced and wearing your mask. It's several layers."
In his comments, District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson argued that masks are a key tool in mitigating the coronavirus and said, "Unequivocally, masks help reduce the spread of COVID."
District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick disagreed with Olson's comments, though, because Olson didn't list scientific evidence.
"It's not unequivocal that the mask is the savior," Lucachick said. "That's a discussion at the school board level, it's the discussion at the community level. It's a huge discussion. When you make the statement you did, make sure you bring up what science that's based on."
Lucachick followed up his comments by asking Heuer to send him studies, research and data on the effectiveness of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Heuer said she would follow up with Lucachick, but did cite an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association that found wearing a cloth mask alone can reduce transmission from infected wearers by 50% to 70%.
The article from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which cited 10 previous studies, goes on to state that community mask-wearing substantially reduces transmission of the coronavirus in two ways.
First, the masks prevent infected persons from exposing others to COVID by blocking the exhalation of virus-containing droplets in the air. Secondly, the masks form a barrier to large respiratory droplets that could land on exposed membranes.
Other studies conducted since the pandemic began also show masks having an impact. A 2020 study by the University of Iowa, published in Health Affairs, compared the COVID growth rate before and after mask mandates went into effect in 15 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
The study found the mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rates, reducing by 2% after three weeks.
Masks were also been found to be effective in research published by the International Journal of Nursing Studies, which studied 19 randomized, controlled trials. Researchers found that mask-wearing is effective, regardless of hand hygiene.
Heuer's presentation also included vaccination data. So far, 21,305 Beltrami County residents have received one dose, while 19,989 have completed the vaccine series.
Since the pandemic began, Beltrami County has recorded 4,282 cases of the coronavirus and 65 related deaths.
During the meeting, the commissioners also received financial data on 2020 from the firm CliftonLarsonAllen Wealth Advisors. According to the presentation, the county's revenues exceeded expenditures for the second year for the county.
In 2020, the county had $97.09 million in revenues and $92.9 million in expenditures. The largest revenue sources for the county were the following:
- $51.5 million from intergovernmental sources.
- $30.5 million from taxes.
- $8.9 million from charges for services.
- $2.7 million from special assessments.
- $2.4 million in miscellaneous revenues.
The largest expenditures, meanwhile, included:
- $29.3 million for human services.
- $20.5 million for street and highway work.
- $17.5 million for general government operations.
- $12.8 million for public safety.
- $4.9 million for sanitation services.
- $2.3 million for health services.
The 2020 report's conclusion was that while the health and human services fund is low, the general fund is at a good level.