WORTHINGTON — As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Minnesota and around the world, local public health officials are echoing what is being said by state and federal health agencies — stay home if you can to help “flatten the curve.”

Nobles County Public Health has emergency preparedness plans in place for situations where the public may need to self-isolate or quarantine to help slow the spread during a pandemic.

Local Public Health Supervisor Michelle Ebbers said Monday that her office is meeting with community stakeholders, including health care providers and emergency management, regularly to discuss status updates and community partnership opportunities.

“We are connecting with emergency responders regarding planning and equipment,” she said. “Daily calls with Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) and the Minnesota Department of Health are taking place.”

While the local public health office does not provide testing for COVID-19, Ebbers said her office will be notified when the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has confirmed a positive case of COVID-19. Along with the notification, the local office will be provided the individual’s permanent residence within the county so that local public health workers can follow-up with the patient and determine what, if any, essential needs must be addressed.

In preparation for a pandemic, items such as respirators and N-95 masks are on hand, but both are in limited supply, Ebbers shared.

“Emergency Management, Public Health, both clinics as well as the hospital (have respirator) supplies,” she said. “With the information being put forth by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and MDH that there is nationally a shortage of respirators, it is important that all entities are conservative with the utilization of the supplies. However, we feel confident in what we currently have.”

As for the masks, Ebbers said it will be difficult for the county to order additional supplies at this time due to the nationwide shortage.

“However, we are excited to see companies like Bedford Industries being very innovative and assist with research and development to make the integrity of the masks that are presently in supply last even longer,” she said.

For now, the best thing people can do to help slow the spread of the virus is to practice social distancing (six feet apart); wash hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water; cover any cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of it properly; and stay home when sick. Use of hand sanitizer (minimum 60% alcohol content) is also encouraged when soap and water aren’t available.

Ebbers said her office has met with some of Nobles County’s largest employers concerning their plans, and have been notified that many employers have implemented employee screenings that take place as they report to work for their shift.

As for helping those most in need in the community — the elderly and those most susceptible to the virus — Ebbers said her office encourages those who are able to assist in aiding their at-risk community members to do so in a safe manner using social distancing.

“This topic is a priority during discussions at many of the community stakeholder meetings. Some additional lists of resources are being updated and developed,” she said.