Coronavirus Update: Farmers Markets, Surgeries, and Rescue Flights
Photo via Colin Brown Photography (Shared under Creative Commons)

Coronavirus Update: Farmers Markets, Surgeries, and Rescue Flights

The impact of COVID-19 deepens as the number of closures and confirmed cases continues to rise.

Coronavirus continues to spread, with the number of confirmed cases in Minnesota increasing to 77, and the global number hurdling into 214,894 as of Wednesday. The pandemic is continuing to cause a wave of closures and cancellations, and now even medical procedures are being impacted.

As of Wednesday, Allina Health, Mayo Clinic, M Health Fairview, and HealthPartners have all postponed elective surgeries.

HealthPartners has postponed all elective surgeries, procedures, and non-essential radiology services through April 3, and will not be scheduling surgeries until after April 27. The healthcare organization’s non-emergent dental appointments are also being suspended through March 29.

Allina’s nonessential, non-urgent clinic visits are also being suspended, and it’s using an urgency ranking system to determine which surgeries will proceed. Visitation is also being restricted.

The Mayo is suspending elective procedures for at least eight weeks, and is limiting the number of visitors allowed in its clinics.

The virus is also disrupting the state’s farmers’ markets, although they are exempt from the executive order closing bars and restaurants since they’re in the same category as grocery stores, according to an announcement from Thom Petersen, Minnesota’s commissioner of agriculture.

To limit contact and the spread of COVID-19, some markets — such as the Mill City Farmers’ market — are offering online ordering services. The Saint Paul Farmers’ Markets consolidated locations to one outdoor spot in downtown St. Paul to create a less contagious atmosphere, said Dave Kotsonas, director of the Saint Paul Farmers’ Market and board member of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association.

“I think we have a more sterile atmosphere than a lot of the box stores from what I’ve seen over the last week. And I think that we have the same challenges that grocery stores are having, where the cashier is right there, and you have to have that transaction,” he said.

He also suggested shoppers take their own precautionary measures when they come to the market, like wearing masks.

“Being open is allowing people to have access to healthy foods, and that’s vital for our communities,” he added.

Markets that are open aren’t allowed to provide food samples, must have hand-washing stations accessible to all customers, and have plans for following social distancing. Like many grocery stores, the first hour of operations will be reserved for high-risk shoppers, like the elderly and immunocompromised.

Coronavirus has even impeded the 2020 Census, with field operations suspended until April 1. Other census operations will proceed, but will be adjusted as needed. And the majority of Minneapolis’ meetings have also been canceled to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

To lessen the impact on small businesses, the U.S. Small Business Administration revised its criteria for states applying for an economic injury declaration. The updates require the state to prove that at least five small businesses have suffered a substantial economic impact, but it doesn’t matter where in the state they’re located.

A financial strain also looms for local civic organizations as the country appears poised for a recession. In response, the St. Paul-based Otto Bremer Trust set up a $50 million emergency fund to financially support nonprofits and community organizations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Montana.

“This is a stressful and demanding time for many organizations across the region as they work to support the most vulnerable people in our communities,” co-CEO Daniel Reardon said in a press release. The money will go toward things like emergency funding, loans, and lines of credit.

Sun Country Airlines, meanwhile, is operating rescue flights to retrieve passengers in Aruba and Costa Rica, which have closed their borders to incoming non-residents, according to spokeswoman Kirsten Wenker.

“We want all our guests in Aruba or Costa Rica to rest assured that our team is working directly with these governments to bring all Sun Country customers that are currently in these countries back to the U.S.,” she said in an email.

There is one flight to Aruba and four to Costa Rica scheduled to retrieve customers.

Along with the hours of Target and Best Buy being trimmed, Schuler Shoes and Half Price Books are temporarily closing all of its stores. Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino also announced a temporary closure beginning Wednesday.

“We have been balancing our responsibility of providing jobs and benefits to the thousands of people who depend on us with the rapidly developing guidance from the federal and state government,” Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community chair Keith Anderson said in a press release.