Ely motel may house virus victims

County program would allow local residents to self isolate

by Tom Coombe
Two Ely motel rooms are being reserved for local residents who might need “safe place to shelter” if they test positive for the coronavirus.
It’s part of a countywide effort to secure up to 90 rooms for people who may be required to self isolate, with St. Louis County teaming with entities including the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency to book rooms in Ely, Virginia, Hibbing and Duluth.
Social media posts Wednesday confirmed that Ely’s Adventure Inn is participating in the program.
Mayor Chuck Novak declined to identify the motel but offered more details about the initiative after speaking with county representatives, and amid erroneous reports that people from outside the area would be sent to Ely.
“The rooms that are being contracted in Ely are for the purpose of being available in case someone here tests positive,” said Novak. “They are not planning to send people from anywhere else here at this point.”
A post on the Adventure Inn’s Facebook page shed further light, indicating “We do not have anybody here. What we offered was two rooms for the month of April to provide isolation in case someone in Ely has no place to shelter. We have homeless and indigent people here and it is to protect the community from them spreading it. Please try to understand that this is to protect our community.. The vast majority are in Duluth, where the infection is spreading.”
The Adventure Inn is owned by Sue Edgington, who chairs the board of directors at Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital.
According to Novak, the rooms could be used to house an Ely area resident who needs to quarantine away from other family members.
Novak said “let’s say you are home and test positive, then you become a candidate and you are the person that gets the motel room.”
The service would only be provided to those who have a positive, lab-confirmed case of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and have no other place to safely isolate.
Novak said he understood the rooms in Ely would be limited to residents of the Ely area, residing within the Ely School District.
Linnea Mersch, the county’s public health and human services director, told a Duluth television station that the program was launched “out of an abundance of caution” and that the county sent letters to lodging establishments in the area.
The program is in place for 45 days, but may be extended if residents continue to need isolation.
Total costs of the program is estimate at between $450,000 to $500,000, with the county providing funding up front in hopes of gaining state and federal reimbursements.
In a related post on Adventure Inn’s Facebook page, the business added “We are not making much money on this at all. This is to provide a service to protect our community in case it is needed. We have a large population in our area that might need to be isolated.”