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Pandemic ebbs, but it's still part of life

As the largest community gathering in at least 18 months approaches - the July Fourth holiday - public health nurse Jenny Barta pointed out the pandemic isn't over.

"Just because the mask mandate is no longer in effect doesn't mean that Covid went away," said Barta, the Carlton County disease prevention and control coordinator and a frontline worker in the pandemic. "It's still circulating in our communities, but not at the rate that it was in the winter and the early spring months."

Because of that, people who have not been vaccinated, including children, should still wear masks when they're around other people, especially when they're indoors where air doesn't circulate very well, she said.

"Really, anyone who's concerned about Covid-19, whether you're vaccinated or not, should know that it's always OK to put on a mask when you're around other people," Barta said. Masks are still required in health care settings like clinics or hospitals, or on public transportation, she added.

And then there's July Fourth. Cloquet and Moose Lake are both hosting outdoor parades and fireworks. Barta encourages households to try to maintain 6 feet of distance between their group and others. Outdoor activities are best if gathering with people you don't know, or who aren't vaccinated.

She approved of the decision to not hold the children's activities in Veterans Park this year, which would normally include bouncy houses, pony rides, face painting, an outdoor movie and more.

"Keep in mind this attracts an unvaccinated population," she said, explaining that children under 12 can't be vaccinated. "If you have a large group of unvaccinated individuals who potentially could be ill or be asymptomatic, there's still potential to spread disease, especially with children who are more apt to be in close contact with one another," Barta said.

Although Carlton County hit the 70-percent target for residents ages 16 and older last month, just under half the county's 16- and 17-year-old residents have received at least one vaccination. Currently only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children age 12 and older; the other vaccines are currently approved only for age 18 and above. Community Memorial Hospital and some pharmacies in town offer the Pfizer vaccine.

Ongoing clinics

On Tuesday, Carlton County held the first of what will likely be many vaccination clinics at the Carlton County Community Services Building in downtown Cloquet. Barta said they plan to hold the free clinics every other Tuesday, with the next clinic set for July 13. People age 18 or older can pre-register or just walk in for a Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine.

Shane Colemer took the plunge on Tuesday. He waited at first - "I didn't want to be a test dummy," he said - but felt good about the vaccine now. He wanted to do it for his work at a local treatment center, and to protect both his grandmother and his newborn baby. He also didn't want to get Covid again, after being sick for eight days around Christmas.

He was pleasantly surprised to learn that by getting vaccinated before June 30, he qualified for a prize from the state. "I like to travel too, so this will make that easier," Colemer said.

Chris and Deekon Anvid of Alborn made a mother-son trip to get vaccinated.

"He's going away to college," Chris said.