Gary Skalko

Mountain Iron Mayor Gary Skalko welcomes several hundred guests to the 2015 Minnesota Governor's Deer Hunting Opener banquet held at the Mountain Iron Community Building Nov. 6, 2015.

MOUNTAIN IRON — Mayor Gary Skalko said COVID-19 has “become personal.”

But the Mountain Iron mayor stressed Friday that he is sharing the information not to cause fear, but to inform the public that the virus needs to be taken seriously, and that a small community can be impacted.

Skalko said that, while not confirmed to have the virus, his 21-year-old grandson and two friends who recently returned to their residences in Duluth from spring break in Florida are exhibiting “all the symptoms” of COVID-19, including fevers and difficulty breathing.

The mayor said the college students consulted with medical personnel in Duluth, and were told to self-quarantine, which they are doing. But the three individuals with symptoms were not tested because of a shortage of tests, and because of their “young age.”

As of Friday, his grandson has been “sick four days,” Skalko said.

His grandson and a handful of friends drove to Florida March 5 and came back around March 12, Skalko said. When they returned “three of them got sick.”

One of the individuals is his grandson’s roommate, and the other lives in a separate residence, he said.

“He could have the virus,” Skalko said. “He’s in self-isolation for (the recommended) 14 days.”

“The scary part is there are still some people who think (COVID-19) a hoax. They think it can’t happen up here, that it’s just a disease in the large cities,” Skalko said. “That could not be further from the truth.”

The Minnesota Department of Health has confirmed two cases of the coronavirus in St. Louis County. The county said the individuals are a woman in their 60s, both recovering at home, with their infections linked to domestic travel. Officials did not say in what part of the county the women live.

Wisconsin’s Bayfield County Health Department on Thursday reported a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a high school student, the first in northwestern Wisconsin. The county health department said the case is in a person who recently traveled to an area on the west coast where COVID-19 is spreading in the community, and the individual developed symptoms shortly afterwards.

Douglas Country, in northwestern Wisconsin, has now reported four confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“It’s not just in the elderly now, and I’m in that group,” Skalko said.

People such as his grandson could have the virus — but may not have it confirmed — because they are not able to get tested, the mayor said.

“The virus is still in its infant stages in the United States,” Skalko said, adding that experts have said people can be carriers of it and may be infected with no symptoms.

“When you’ve been mayor for as long as I have, 18 years, in a small town, people come to you,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of phone calls and run into people at Walmart. Most are elderly. They are scared and are seeking reassurance.”

Skalko said he wants to be reassuring, but also realistic.

“I’m pleading with citizens to follow the basics — wash your hands, stay home, practice social distancing, be calm, rationalize. You have to be rational; you have to take this very seriously. We have to be smart and united. And a little prayer wouldn’t hurt either.”


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