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Minnesota: 8,862, Rock County: 24, Cook County: 0

Lead Summary
Mavis Fodness, reporter

I’ve come to be something of a numbers watcher.
Each weekday the State Department of Health releases coronavirus data, and I’ve been watching those numbers for more than a year.
My daily watch mostly keeps tabs on the number of deaths in Rock County associated with COVID-19. As of Monday, we have had up to 24 deaths.
Statewide, 8,862 Covid deaths have been recorded since March 2020.
One number that hasn’t been climbing are the number of deaths in Cook County, located in the far northeastern part of the state. (If we are considered the cornerstone of the state, Cook County is the large arrowhead.)
Remarkably Cook County is the only county in the state that hasn’t recorded a single resident death from the coronavirus.
A big goose egg.
Curious, I talked with Grace Grinager, Cook County’s public health director. I learned she’s used to answering questions from the public.
When the state of emergency was declared in March 2020, Cook County Public Health took the lead in answering the public’s questions, finding answers to a pandemic with which no one had any experience, and working with businesses, hospitals, clinics and schools to keep business within the county of 5,539 (2021 estimates) people as close to normal as possible.
Their public health plan seems to be working.
Early on, Grinager’s staff took over distributing hand sanitizer, facial masks and recommendations to keep the virus from spreading.
Her office assumed the reins of contact tracing positive cases within the county for the one hospital and one clinic located within Cook County’s borders. Her office also did contact tracing for the local school districts.
The message to the public in all those calls was consistent: Quarantine when necessary, wear face masks and socially distance.
Once available, Cook County public health also coordinated a countywide vaccination program which reached 77 percent of the county’s residents.
Now as the vaccine is available for elementary-aged children, public health will also coordinate the Covid shots.
Grinager was quick to say her office didn’t do anything extraordinary — they just did their jobs.
They saw and continue to see COVID-19 as a public health risk and stress with people that what they are doing is not politically motived.
If public health hadn’t taken the lead in their county, she said, things may have been different.
There may have been more confusion about how to keep restaurants and businesses open and how to keep students learning safely in schools through a coordinated testing schedule.
And they may not have kept infections at a minimum as tourism resumed in the area.
I think we can learn a lot from Cook County’s focus on public health, not on politics. We won’t know all the variables at play in that part of the state, but their zero-death number speaks volumes to me.

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