The Owatonna City Council gave formal approval to an emergency declaration at their meeting Tuesday night. The move allows the city to deal with the growing coronavirus pandemic, according to Steele County Emergency Management Director and Owatonna Fire Chief Mike Johnson. Watch the comments from healthcare, emergency management, and political officials from the meeting via the OwatonnaLive Facebook page.

"What it does is it authorizes us to implement the emergency operations plan. What we do is identify problems and come up with incident action plans with a multiple group of organizations. So then we can switch from day-to-day operations which sometimes we have to go through bidding to order equipment. In a state of emergency we can go ahead and do that. Also it gives me the authority to do the things I need to do as far as action plans to manage the disaster."

Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz and City Administrator Kris Busse appeared on KRFO radio Tuesday afternoon to share some updates on how the city is dealing with the coronavirus. Hear their remarks by clicking here.

Several healthcare providers spoke before the council with updates on testing for COVID-19 and efforts to slow the spread. The director of the Steele County/Dodge County Public Health said if people aren't worried about their own health, they should be considerate of others they will encounter.

She said people should continue to follow social distancing guidelines, stay home when sick, and avoid meetings like the one she was speaking at. She said if a case is confirmed in Steele County, there will be a required quarantine for the patient. Other levels of self isolation could come into play for people they have been in contact with. As of that time, Tuesday night, there had NOT been a positive test in Steele or Dodge Counties, although there have been positive tests in Olmsted and Waseca Counties.

Dr. Brian Bunkers and another doctor spoke of the drive-thru testing occurring at the Owatonna Healthcare Campus, but said patients should call first to go through triage. He said about 40 tests had been administered each day, Monday and Tuesday. Drive-thru testing is expected to be offered seven days a week, 10 am to 6 pm.

They said the effort is being made to flatten the curve and that health screening is increasing for visitors to the clinic and hospital. Elective surgery is being put on hold, as healthcare facilities prepare for and expected large influx of patients.

Bunkers was asked by a council member about families that may have travel plans during Owatonna's spring break. Bunkers, who said his family had canceled their own vacation plans, advised people to stay home. He also said the "tsunami is on the horizon."

Elected officials John Jasinski and John Petersburg appeared as well after a long night at the state capitol the previous night, lasting into the early hours of Tuesday morning. Jasinski said the legislature has passed bills dedicating about $221 million to coronavirus fight. Petersburg spoke of the domino effect that restricting or closing businesses will have on the state's economy for years to come.

President of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce Brad Meier addressed the council. He said the restrictions placed on restaurants and bars affects about 70 Owatonna businesses. Many of them will continue to offer to-go or delivery services. Several council members encouraged residents to take advantage of that. One member suggested customers tip well to help service workers who are losing hours and pay during the slowdown.


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