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Chamber conference focuses on COVID-19 response in New Ulm

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a video conference, Friday covering topics related to COVID-19 and the impact on businesses and the community.

Chamber President Michael Looft said he was pleased with how businesses in New Ulm have adapted, citing the curbside delivery options provided by many restaurants. He informed businesses that the New Ulm City Council did authorize restaurants on Minnesota Street to designate two parking stalls in front of the business for carryout use.

Karen Mortiz, Brown County Public Health Director, and Jaimee Brand with Public Health provided an update. Public Health is recommending businesses offer flexibility in sick days and allow working from home when possible.

Brand said the Minnesota Department of Health was asking COVID-19 testing to be reserved for hospital workers and patients.

Brand said some businesses require a sick note from a doctor if they exceed a certain number of sick days, but said realistically a doctors note about COVID-19 is unlikely.

Those with manageable symptoms are advised to stay home. Anyone with a fever should self-quarantine until at least three days after the fever has passed.

District Superintendent 88 Jeff Bertrang gave an update on the school. The New Ulm Schools closed by directive of Governor Walz. The district is continuing to provide support for students and families. A plan is in place for daycare options for Tier I emergency workers and serving meals at building sites. The breakfast and lunches will be prepared at school and sent to designated sites as “to-go” meals.

The complete list of pickup locations is available on the school district’s website.

Each building is working to design distance learning options for students. Bertrang said the distance learning options are not the same as E-Learning. Parents are encouraged to keep students active with academic work. The resources home learning area also available the school website.

Lori Pickel-Stangel, executive director of the United Way of the Brown County Area, posted that the United Way will continue the weekend food program, Project Backpack, for families currently signed up in the New Ulm School District. Families can pick up the child’s meal packages at the site where their child goes to school. Families who are facing food insecurity can sign up on United Way of the Brown County Area, Inc. Facebook page.

State Rep. Paul Torkelson also participated in the conference. He said the main objective now was to slow down the spread of the disease.

Torkelson said it was unlikely the Governor would call legislators back to the capital to finish the session. Bringing legislators from across the state to one location was a dangerous option.

Torkelson said the Governor’s office is swamped with calls at this time. He advised any constituents with a question to direct them to his office or the office Senator Gary Dahms.

City Manager Chris Dalton said Park and Recreation facilities and City Hall were closed, but essential city services are in operation. He said three members of the city staff were sent home with fevers. The staff that has recently traveled out of state were also sent home.

Payments to the city can still be mailed in or left in the city hall dropbox. During the current health crisis, no utility disconnects or penalties will be incurred.

Public works have also warned against flushing paper towels or baby wipes. Dalton said that even though some wipes are labeled as “flushable,” city workers have said this is not accurate.

Dalton said the city is in the planning stages for seeking emergency grants.

The chamber directed businesses to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) website for potential disaster loan assistance. Minnesota has not declared as a federal disaster, but businesses could begin filling out the application when and if a disaster is declared. The SBA is offering designated territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering as a result of COVID-19.

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