Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The latest observations & developments on COVID-19 from my area of Minnesota March 15, 2020

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Art from my files that seems to fit this story. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of random growth on a bridge.

 

IN A REVERSAL OF ROLES, the daughters are now concerned about their parents. Randy and me. Both daughters advised us not to attend services at our church this morning. They live in major metro areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The second daughter even texted a link to a news story about a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, church with three positive cases within the congregation.

“Is this an effort to convince the parents not to attend church?” I replied.

“Yes,” she answered. Services at our daughters’ churches have been canceled.

The Wisconsin daughter works as an independent healthcare contractor in close contact with patients. She views the current pandemic from an insider, as well as a personal, perspective. Her concern for her parents is certainly valid. But I worry about her, too, although plans are in place now to protect her and other professionals in her field.

It’s really difficult to know what to do, how much to limit your activities when you’re not in the highest risk population. But many in my Faribault congregation are and that is especially concerning as the coronavirus situation develops. Minnesota now has 35 confirmed cases, up from 14 on Saturday. Two of those newest cases are in rural areas—Renville County in southwestern Minnesota and Waseca County, right next to my county of Rice. And three have been linked to community transmission.

In a news conference today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all K-12 schools in Minnesota will close by Wednesday while “transitioning to a different way of delivering education.” That new plan of extended distance learning is expected to be in operation by the end of March. He’s ordered schools to close from March 18-27. Faribault public schools are closing already starting Monday.

But the information that really jumped out at me today was delivered by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. She “strongly encouraged” those 70 and older and those at risk due to underlying health conditions to isolate themselves and to reduce interaction with the public. Perhaps I missed this in previous news conferences or statements. But this is the first time I’ve heard something this specific targeted to a specific age demographic.

Following the declaration of a peace-time state of emergency in Minnesota on Friday, state officials recommended no gatherings of more than 250 people and social distancing of six feet for groups under that. That’s resulted in thousands of cancellations, including at some houses of worship.

Malcolm also told Minnesotans to stay home from work if they’re sick rather than follow the strong Minnesota work ethic of toughing it out (and going to work sick). Randy received a text from his employer this afternoon telling all employees to stay home if they are ill. More discussion follows tomorrow at this small business.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Everywhere I see the ripples of this pandemic. Yesterday, when I stopped at the local public library to stock up on reading materials, I found the facility nearly empty. On a typical Saturday, all computer terminals would be in use, kids would be playing in the children’s area and the place would be filled with patrons.

The grocery store, however, was packed with people stocking up. In addition to our usual Saturday meat counter purchases, we picked up a few extras—canned fruit (which I never eat), Ibuprofen and Gatorade (just in case we get sick). I looked again, even at the hardware store, for hand sanitizer, to no avail.

But I picked up tidbits of information from random people I don’t know. One, from Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school in Faribault with a sizable international population, shared how parents of students from China just want to get their kids home. As a mom whose adult son returned to Wisconsin last evening from an international conference in Florida with a layover in New York, I get it. I wanted him safely back in the Midwest.

An employee at the grocery store told me about his Waldorf College friend who is trying to get home to Barcelona, Spain. A friend worries about her pregnant daughter and family in Spain, now basically under lockdown. Many family and friends are canceling vacations and my church has canceled a March mission trip to Nicaragua.

Then there’s the dad I met at Walgreens who encouraged his daughter to go on a recent cruise and have fun. His attitude toward the whole pandemic seemed relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. But I recognize that everyone reacts differently.

None of us knows what will happen, how this pandemic will develop. I feel confident in our leadership here in Minnesota, that we are getting accurate information and good advice and that state officials are working hard to manage the growth of coronavirus. That eases my mind. Somewhat.

Today we attended services at our church, despite the daughters’ protests. We kept social distance during the service, didn’t touch the collection plate and used hand sanitizer. Maybe next week I will feel differently.

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JUST A NOTE: I feel it’s important to continue documenting what’s happening in my small corner of the world—what I am observing, what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing. It helps me to write about the situation. I want to hear from you, too, and deeply appreciate those of you who have already taken the time to add your thoughtful (and sometimes humorous) comments. We are experiencing something historic, something unprecedented and something that touches every single one of us. Be well, my friends.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling