Perham Health has reduced the number of inpatient surgeries it performs because it had no beds available, according to a statement from CEO Chuck Hofius presented at the Otter Tail County Commission meeting on Oct. 12.

"Our inpatient volumes are nearly double what we typically see," said the statement, which was part of a presentation by Otter Tail County Public Health Director Jody Lien.

COVID patients in their hospital are younger than the last surge, he said, mostly because the older population is well vaccinated. Perham Health is also seeing more kids in the clinic and emergency department than the last time.

Most COVID patients who are hospitalized in Perham, as well as those transferred out because they need higher levels of care, have not been vaccinated, Hofius wrote.

"The vaccine is highly safe and very effective and is truly our only way out of this," he added.

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Across Otter Tail County, COVID cases have soared in the absence of mandatory mask wearing and other mandatory measures to control the pandemic, Lien said.

Lien showed commissioners a graph comparing 2020 COVID cases in Otter Tail County to 2021 cases week-by-week from the end of July to the end of October. The numbers are triple and sometimes quadruple what they were during the same time period in 2020. In the fourth week of September, there were about 280 cases, compared to about 80 cases in 2020.

"Wasn't it a year ago that schools were required by the governor to wear masks and currently it's not (a requirement)?" asked Commissioner Wayne Johnson.

"Correct," Lien replied.

"It's unfortunate," Johnson said. "We've got administrators that have two sides to this story and they're local. I'm glad I'm not making the call. They're challenged by people who are absolutely, 'You can't force my kids to wear a mask.' When it's a gubernatorial order it's one thing. We all have to because it was ordered. Now, the local administrator, I know really well, and he is struggling and I feel bad for him."

Lien also shared a statement from Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls. Lake Region said it has seen a "significant increase" in demand for COVID testing, and also that it can't handle the wave of referrals for monoclonal antibody treatments and is forced to send those patients to other clinics. Lake Region said it is seeing a "significant increase" in hospitalizations and deaths, and has seen many more people in their 30s, 40s and 50s with severe illness that requires hospitalization.

In other commission news:

  • Members of the Otter Tail Water Management District may not be able to get septic system repair grants through Otter Tail County. The district, which encompasses six lakes — Blanche, Deer, Otter Tail, Round, Walker, and the south half of Long Lake — and part of the Otter Tail River North, had asked the county to apply for a state grant and the county agreed. However, there were two sticking points in the contract between the county and the district: The district wants to do its own inspections without acquiring a permit, and it does not want to reimburse the county for the county's costs. However, Land & Water Resources Director Chris LeClaire said the program costs the county between $85 to $155 worth of time per grant application, and there are additional costs. "From my perspective, both of these objections are deal breakers," LeClaire told commissioners. County commissioners agreed, saying that the district has the ability to apply for the grant funds itself.
  • The county will be able to repair the foundation of Phelps Mill, thanks to a $275,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society. The work will begin in December; low water levels will aid the project, said Nick Leonard, assistant county administrator. Bids will be awarded in November, and the county hopes the work can be done by May 9.

  • On Tuesday, Oct. 26, the public will get a chance to comment on whether to give a Vergas company a $45,000 break on future property taxes. The company, S&Z Properties, wants to built an 8,000-square-foot, nearly $2 million building in downtown Vergas that would offer commercial space downstairs and apartments upstairs. The project would increase the county's tax base and provide affordable workforce housing, the company argues. The savings would help the company develop the site and expire after five years. It is looking for $90,000 in total property tax abatements, and the City of Vergas would pay for the other half.

  • Agreed to allow East Silent Resort to save $147,000 in future property taxes on an improvement that will benefit the lake by moving cabins further away from the shoreline. The nearly $4 million project will also include four new vacation homes and an expanded main lodge with a pool. The tax abatement will expire in 15 years, or when the $147,000 goal is met, whichever comes first. A public hearing had already been held.