RAMS Finance Committee – 5:30 PM, June 25, 2020, NESC Office
RAMS Board – 6:00 PM, June 25, 2020, NESC Office (on-line through Zoom)
Message From Director
2020 – A Year We Will Never Forget
PANDEMIC…CORONA – 19….STAY AT HOME…SELF QUARANTINE…SOCIAL DISTANCING all reflect the vocabulary that we have suddenly had to learn and become familiar with during this historic time in America. Everything that we once considered normal, routing or mundane is now questioned or presents a challenge that we never gave a thought to previously. Need to discuss an issue with your co-workers – simple, meet in the conference room. Now, since you are working from home, under the “Stay at Home” declaration, someone needs to schedule a Zoom meeting or Google chat.
Elected officials have had to quickly learn about video meeting formats, decide how or when to allow public participation and hope that they have enough broadband bandwidth from home to even connect to the meeting. The State Legislature has quickly developed new rules and adjourned the Legislature for weeks at a time, conducting leadership meetings to quickly develop a relief bill for the COVID -19 pandemic that provided for waiving the waiting week on unemployment, altered the eligibility rules for UE and allotted millions of dollars for short term low interest loans to businesses. School were closed and instructed to develop plans for “distance or E Learning” in an eight day window provided by the Governor. Businesses were identified as either “Essential” or “Non-essential” and only the essential were allowed to continue operating.
RAMS as an organization immediately went to work reaching out to our school districts to try and assess the issues on connectivity with students in our rural environment and to see what could be done to assist with this issue. The Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) offered to increase speed and bandwidth to all locations connected to the middle mile fiber network and create hotspots in school, library or town hall parking lots to reduce travel time or provide a location for rural students to utilize as a spot where they could connect a device and receive or send their class assignments.
RAMS also scheduled a meeting with Iron Range Mayors along with Congressman Stauber, Senator Tomassoni and Rep Dave Lislegard. Area mayors were able to learn more about the State legislative relief package as well as the CARES Act, the Federal $2.3 Trillion dollar relief act. RAMS circulated emergency declarations shared by Mayor Novak and encouraged all mayors to adapt similar resolutions as soon as possible to provide their communities with all avenues of relief that may become available.
Fortunately, to date (April 20) the Iron Range has not seen or heard of many reported cases of COVID 19. Unfortunately, we have also heard from medical experts who learn more about the virus every day that many people may be infected, and are able to spread the virus while being asymptomatic. This makes this virus that much more difficult to treat and diagnose. Testing is not nearly as available as it needs to be, and Minnesotans remain hopeful that the Mayo along with the University of MN will be releasing and providing testing that is quick, using a finger poke that reveals if an individual has developed antibodies that have fought off the virus and may also provide a method of treatment for those who are infected and suffering the effects.
Personal Protective Equipment has also been a cause of concern, and there is a lot of uncertainty if that issue has been addressed for our regional healthcare centers or not. This past weekend the Governor led an effort for people to sew masks at home and make them available so that local police or fire departments could distribute them across the communities to locations where they are most needed. Wearing of masks if advised but not mandated at this time.
This past week the Governor opened up more businesses as protests took place outside the Governor’s mansion on Summitt Street in St Paul. Republican Majority Leader Sen Gazelka has been an outspoken advocate for “opening up Minnesota” and allowing more if not all businesses to return to work. Governor Walz is carefully assessing how and when more people will be able to return to work but is concerned that the peak infection rate of the virus has yet to hit Minnesota and does not want to accelerate the community spread of the infection by opening up more businesses too soon.
Now the COVID has impacted our local economy with two mines announcing significant layoffs. April 19th, Keetac laid off over 100 workers with plans for the mine to shut down after some repair work is completed at the end of May. The layoff is described as “indefinite”. Earlier this month North Shore Mining and Cliffs operation, announced that the North Shore facility would lay off the majority of their workers in Silver Bay and Babbitt with a small crew doing maintenance and loading of pellets stockpiled at the Silver Bay site. This layoff is proposed to last through August based on market demand at that time. It is anticipated that additional announcements may be forthcoming from Arcelor Mittal who is the majority owner of the Hibbing Taconite plant and the Inland Steel site in Virginia. The bad news for the Range is we know that layoffs at Taconite plants take longer to start up than the mills in other locations.
What will tomorrow bring? What is the new normal? At this time, no one knows for sure. Medical experts at the CDC have consistently stated that the development of a vaccine will likely take 12 to 18 months. Without a vaccine that provides protection against the virus, we will likely have to adapt to social distancing, wearing PPE, and conducting business and daily activities in manners we find foreign and challenging. Perhaps we will learn more social acceptance of others, appreciate little gestures of kindness more than ever, and look forward to being in a crowded gymnasium, theatre or stadium and be grateful for the experience.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay home, stay strong.