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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:04 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.


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


28 Responses to “The latest observations & developments on COVID-19 from my area of Minnesota”

  1. Susan Ready Says:

    Impressive posting and interesting thoughts from your daughters’; perspective. Since I am in high risk age group my son has also strongly suggested we make some changes. We live in troubling times now with so much uncertainty in uncharted waters. We all need prayers. .

    • We definitely need prayers and also to follow the advice of our health and government officials.

      The daughter who works in healthcare in Madison, Wisconsin, has been directed not to go to any appointments today and is awaiting instructions on possibly working from home. That’s a relief to this mama.

  2. JanBeek Says:

    Thank you for your update. Like you, we received a call from our adult son, concerned about his parents because we are in that “vulnerable – most vulnerable – category. Like you, our stores are out of all sorts of stuff related to the virus (like hand sanitizers) and unrelated stuff (like toilet paper). What gives? Coronavirus does not cause diarrhea! And in our state of Montana, like the country of Switzerland where our daughter lives, all venues of 50 or more are ordered by the government to be closed. Our schools are ordered shut down by the governor. Our church will not hold services until further notice. It’s hard to remain calm and sane. But, while prudent, I refuse to be ruled by fear. We will get through this. Have faith and keep hope, and find ways to help one another!

    • Have faith and keep hope are great advice in addition to following common sense and the directives of those who are on the forefront of this pandemic. I just heard about the CDC recommendation of no gatherings of more than 50 people.

      What I really appreciate about your comment is the humor related to the toilet paper hoarding. Thank you for causing me to laugh out loud.

  3. Audrey- these are strange times. I think it is important for people to remain calm and do what is right for them. If going to worship services is important then people should go, the Lord knows extra prayers are needed for those in leadership positions that are making these very hard decisions. If buying everything you see makes you feel better then (I wouldn’t suggest this selfish approach) then do it. But, from someone who has seen beautiful modern cities in the world turn into war zones where neighbors fight neighbors I know that deep in our human nature is to protect ourselves and our families at all costs. I hoped never to hear or see that sort of thing ever on this large scale and yet, here we are.
    I am so very grateful for your reports and so please keep posting them. Hopefully I will get something on my blog this week. It has been difficult to realize that this could be happening at this level and still know I have trained for this my entire life… the universe will survive but maybe it will change for the better with all of this.
    Man proposes, God disposes.

    Stay safe and healthy.

    • That is what I am hoping, that this current challenge will make us all better people. Kinder, more compassionate and giving and caring.

      Thank you for your comment. Be sure to read the other comments and my replies as I have updates.

      And, yes, we all, from rural to urban, from ordinary people to leaders, need prayers.

  4. Stay home. I say this to everyone, not just seniors. Not out of fear or panic, but out of common sense. Don’t spread what you may not know you have, stay healthy at home.

    When people are in a higher state of anxiety they tend to have more accidents. Some will require visits to doctors or hospitals. The health care system doesn’t need it now. Let them deal with those who are sick, corona or other illnesses, and the maternity departments.

    Right? That’s my view.

    Just stay home. And keep noting down your perspectives. 🙂

    All the best.

    • Thank you for your thoughts. Ideally, we could all just stay home, and it may come to that by executive order. But my husband, for example, needs to go to work to earn money to pay the bills. Remember those $1,700/monthly health insurance premiums, for example. As an automotive machinist, he doesn’t have the option of working from home. Today his boss planned to discuss the Coronavirus situation with employees and Randy went to work with questions about pay and protective measures. Ironically, the boss, who told all employees they must stay home if sick, called in sick this morning.

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    Gosh, as things gets worse, you have to wonder how Meals on Wheels will manage?

  6. Jillian Says:

    Our libraries are in a similar state of solace. They have graciously extended the check out time from 3 weeks to 2 months for ALL items, even new releases. This will help a great many people who would normally venture out. Our stores are so depleted, I went out for milk yesterday and they were out. Out of meat, dairy, eggs and most dry goods. This stems from the schools closing and parents stocking up for their kids being home for 2 weeks.
    The schools closing in our bring a whole different set of concerns. majority of our schools are title one which means all of our students get free lunch. This free lunch is most students only meal of the day. Now even if parents were able to afford a small amount of food there isn’t any available. I have to admit I am somewhat a little relived the school I work at is closed. The kids were on spring break last week and many of them travel over seas to visit family. My paycheck may be a little smaller but the health and safety of the children, families and fellow teachers are worth all of that.
    I have no doubt the medical industry is working on a vaccine or at least getting a handle on how to treat it in a less epic manner than shutting down the world.

    • Jillian, please remind me where you live. Your concerns about those students who now will not have access to meals is one being addressed in Minnesota. There are so many facets to this pandemic and so much to figure out besides dealing with the virus itself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations.

      The City of Faribault has just declared a local state of emergency. (We don’t have any confirmed cases yet.) For starters that includes the closing of our public library, effective immediately and through March 31. That seems a smart move as kids tend to flock to the library when schools are closed. And just to protect the general public.

      • Jillian Says:

        A MN native, I currently reside in Phoenix, AZ. I retired from teaching but work an after school program. I haven’t heard any word as to what the state, county or city is working on to help as it is still under discussion.

        I appreciate your thoughts and insights during this time. I have so many friends and family back in MN including my 76 yr old father who has copd. Your perspective has a much more calm sense of what is going on… a nice change and perspective to the news blurts and ALL the social media mumbo jumbo .

      • Thank you for your appreciative words. I don’t necessarily feel all that calm, but I’m trying. I think it’s helpful for readers to share their experiences and thoughts here as that can be therapeutic. And I believe the more informed, the better. If I can add to the informing in a way that is calmer, then I am thankful for that. We are all in this together.

        I’m sorry you haven’t heard anything from your city, county or state officials about how they are helping the good folks in Arizona. We have a strong leadership in Minnesota and I feel really confident in them.

        Your father’s health situation is definitely reason for concern as he’s in the high-risk group. Does he live in a care center? It has to be hard for you to live so far from him at this time especially.

      • Jillian Says:

        He still lives in his home with is wife of 40 years. The middle sister, luckily lives close so she has been over there as much as she can to check in. Yes, it is hard being such a distance away but I know that she will check on him in person frequently. I am keeping the faith

      • Keep the faith, Jillian. I am thankful your sister lives near your dad to help as needed. That eases your concern, I’m sure.

  7. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Good morning Audrey! I can’t shake the feeling that I’m living in a Stephen King novel right now. I talked to both kids over the weekend and Abby’s stories of the way people behaved at the Roseville Target, where she works in HR, were disappointing. The fear people feel comes out in the worst public behaviors sometimes. Customers were yelling at Target employees for running out of things like toilet paper and pasta as if those employees could control that. Glad Abby has today off to recover. My son Shawn and wife Beka will be making plans to work from home as both of the schools where they work will be closing this week. The good news is that they’ll then be home with their 8-year-old daughter Camille. As for me, I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to wear yoga pants all the time! I may never put regular pants on again. 🙂 Stay optimistic whenever possible.

    • Kathleen, I deeply appreciate your calmness and also your humor about putting on yoga pants.

      I am so sorry Target customers are taking their anger and frustration out on employees. I asked a Faribault grocery store clerk about that on Saturday. He said for the most part customers were kind and understanding, but a few weren’t. The problem arose around toilet paper availability. Toilet paper was on sale as part of a pre-COVID-19 marketing campaign already in the pipeline. So when people arrived at the grocer to buy the “on sale” toilet paper and couldn’t find any, some got mad. Really? Be sure to read Jan Beek’s comment here. You will laugh aloud.

      So glad Shawn and Beka can work from home and be there for Camille. One of my son-in-law’s is now also working from home. And the second daughter is awaiting word on whether she can work from home.

  8. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Audrey – I was surprised to see Trinity live, I watched services from 3 other churches, including mine with a pastor that can be a nut. He threw in “tp, not toothpaste?! People!” The trucks will roll, shelves will get restocked. I’ve also experienced Target being out of sale items a lot, even in normal times. It is no longer my first stop and I did file a complaint on their web site. But the reassurance of community worship is important, I know our choirs feel this deeply. Practice! Practice! is what we’re hearing. The Wash. Post published yesterday groups of 50 or more and definitely through Mar. 31st. Usually I sing at 2 churches on Easter at staggered service times. I’m sure it will be received fine if we’re just back in church. I just hope giving sustains. I too was reassured by our state leaders, that’s what leadership looks like in times like these, not look like they’re reading the phone book. I have me and 2 daughters, the CO child is in the process of moving to AZ, her spouse has a new job. He’s already there. All can telecommute professionally. I am getting the same helpful, caring advice you are. The swine flu gets quoted so often. The blame game solves nothing. I had to find my 2009 calendar, where was I?! It wasn’t this! Our pandemic response team was fired and not restaffed in 2018. Hmmmm….food for thought. Guess we’re all in this together. God bless….nice to read other’s thoughts and experiences. Good job!

    • Sandra, thank you for adding to the conversation. I hope Trinity rethinks its current plan. If not, we likely will choose to stay home. Our kids don’t need the added stress of worrying about their parents. And we really can’t risk getting sick. We’re edging that vulnerable age.

      • Sandra Van Erp Says:

        Audrey – have it on good authority that at SSM “Most students have left campus for home or a designated place beyond the Whitney Arch. Next Monday the 23rd, distance learning starts. We will see.” The 70 are with loved ones. Loved the apocalyptic to current affairs joke, the humor will continue. Govt better get checks out in 2 weeks, you’d better be on that list. Me – I’m readying for spring, finding music haven’t played in a l-o-n-g time. It is difficult to keep looking for the best in this. Praying for health care workers, I have 4 in various fields. Take care!

      • Thanks for all your updates. I appreciate them.

        I laughed at “you’d better be on the list.” I have several loved ones who are in limbo about income. These are difficult days.

        Yes, prayers are needed for our healthcare workers. Stay well, my friend.

  9. Liz Says:

    Prayers are good and so is using common sense. Our church cancelled services for yesterday, most likely again next Sunday. Just an FYI, ibuprofen is not a good idea if you have the virus. Tylenol better choice.
    We are getting the same pleas from our children to pretty much stay at home.
    Stay well.

    • Liz, question: Why is Tylenol a better choice? Not disagreeing, I just wonder why.

      Randy and I have made the decision not to attend services, meetings or activities at our church. It’s as you say, common sense and doing our part in community mitigation. We are listening to our kids. And they are quite happy about that. 🙂

  10. Amber Schmidt Says:

    Yes, your children are very relieved to hear you will be staying home. I have been hearing from lots of friends that they have been having to tell their parents they need to stay home…must be something with the Boomer generation…they don’t like listening the first time….;)

    Read about “flattening the curve”– staying home/social distancing is the most helpful thing we can do to stop the spread of COVID-19.

    • Oh, dear daughter, you are making your mama laugh. Lots of friends needing to tell their parents to stay home, huh?

      Thank you for sharing that flattening the curve message. I’ve heard that repeated often and it makes sense.

  11. God Bless Says:

    As a mom of a child with special needs, specifically Autism and ADD, I can honestly say that school closures has hit hard. My child thrives on a predictable routine, and feels safe when he knows what will happen next. Trying to start a new routine or make changes often results in escalated behaviors, tears and alot of anxiety/repetitive thoughts. As a parent, you do your best to cope…but school closing coupled with lack of normal community supports and activities..hits a special needs child hard.

    And trying to homeschool…exhausting! I try to be flexible, and not make a big deal. If the answer to every question is “boring” or “stupid” then I celebrate that I was able to get him to listen or sit down. Also, I break lessons down into short 10-15 min chunks followed by a break or an incentive. Finding hands on activities to do at home has been fun…I’m learning how to play Pokemon. And making a pea shooter with a plastic bottle and rubber band that shoots frozen veggies across the room to be splattered on the wall.

    Each day is an adventure. And when things get tough, I remind myself to be thankful…bc corona has hit everyone hard, and our recovery as a community and a nation will depend on each of us to be strong, and to work together. xo

    • It sounds like you are making the best of your time with your beautiful son. Shooting frozen veggies across the room, gotta love that. Your son is blessed to have a creative, loving and caring mom. I recognize the challenges you are currently facing without routine. You are doing a wonderful job and maintaining a positive attitude.

      Is there anyone you can reach out to for support within your school system?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.