Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

As COVID continues, thoughts from Linda & me December 19, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I photographed my mom’s hands when I last visited her in-person in her care center in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.



Each letter in the two rows above represents a person who lost their life to COVID-19 in my county of Rice.

Forty-seven individuals ranging in age from 24 to 94.

These were our family and friends and neighbors. Sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and one, Dave, part of my faith family.

I think sometimes we lose site of the humanity in the statistics. These numbers come from the Rice County Public Health weekly COVID-19 report, last updated December 18.

Of those who died in Rice County, Minnesota, to date, 25 lived in long-term care settings, 17 in private residences and five in prison.

My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones to this horrible virus. I’m sorry. Deeply sorry. That includes extended family and friends now without a sister, a father, a father-in-law, an uncle.


My mom’s care center. The last time I visited my mom, it was on a phone through these glass doors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Recently, I read an especially touching letter to the editor penned by Linda Hoffman of neighboring Owatonna and published in my local newspaper. It was titled The virus takes its opportunity where it can find it. Linda recently lost her mother, a resident of a care facility, to COVID. She addresses the issue of people disregarding masking and other health and safety protocols. Linda emphasizes how the repeated message that, of those who died recently from COVID in Minnesota, “60% were residents of long-term care facilities and most had underlying health conditions” may create a false sense of security. Her point: this may partially explain why some people are not masking, thinking it’s just old people in nursing homes who are dying. They are wrong, she says, as she writes of how a young person running around with friends can pick up and spread the virus.

It’s a powerful letter that ends with this admonition to those who fail to mask up, who live life like there’s no pandemic, who complain about closed businesses and government restrictions:

So when you hear the news that 60% of COVID fatalities are residents of long-term care facilities with underlying health conditions, don’t think that you had nothing to do with their death.

Wow. That’s powerful.


The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Like Linda, I’m weary of ignorant attitudes, of the failure to wear face masks. Every time I’m out and about in Faribault, which isn’t all that often because I’m trying to stay healthy, I see people without masks or people wearing them below their noses. I’ve observed preschoolers wearing masks without a problem and then will pass by an adult with no mask. And most of the time, those mask-less individuals are young adults, who can often be asymptomatic and spread the virus.

I don’t understand how, after 47 deaths in my county, after 5,152 confirmed and probable cases of COVID, after 177 hospitalizations (with 35 in ICU), people still do not recognize the importance of masking, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding gatherings and crowds to prevent and stop the spread of the virus.


Me with my mom during a January visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling.

My 88-year-old mom (who is in hospice) and 90-year-old father-in-law live in care centers in other parts of Minnesota, in counties with incredibly high per capita rates of COVID. Their centers have been on lockdowns due to COVID cases more times than I recall. I want to visit my mom in-person, to hug her, hold her hand. I last did that in early March. But I understand the need to keep visitors away, to keep residents well. I would never risk giving my mom COVID and being responsible for her death.

I understand Linda’s anger penned in her letter. I feel her pain, appreciate her points. And I want to add that, even if 60% of Minnesota’s COVID deaths occurred in residents of long-term care centers, their lives are no less important. I value our elders. None of them should suffer and die, with or without family, from the virus.

Forty-seven individuals in my county, to date, have lost their lives due to COVID. It is incumbent upon each of us to follow health and safety guidelines to protect ourselves and others. Yes, vaccines are here and for that I feel grateful. Vaccinations take time, though. We need to commit to caring. About others, not just ourselves.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “As COVID continues, thoughts from Linda & me”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    The Mayo Clinic recently concluded a study that measured the effects of distance and masks and concluded that wearing a mask is effective.

    No disagreement there, but I am a numbers guy, so let’s look at the numbers.

    Here is a report on the study.

    Without any masks at one foot distance, 100% of airborne particle emitted from one subject reached the receiving subject.

    When the emitting subject wears a mask, that number drops to .06%

    Bear with me here:

    At six feet distance, if neither is wearing a mask, only 3% of particles are received.

    And if both are masked, only .05 is received.

    From the study, one can conclude two things:

    1) Distance is the most important factor.

    2) Masks protect others, more than you.

  2. Audrey- each of those 45 in your county are people who were loved. If everyone thought about this on a level of protecting those we love, I think maybe the approach or focus by many would have been different. We think too much of “I, myself, my family” and not enough of “we, our families, our neighbors, the human race”. When framed differently we might see more empathy, although having leadership that sets the example of empathy would also go a long way to controlling the current situation.

    • I agree with everything you state here, Paula.

      Just this weekend, when I was grocery shopping, I spotted about a dozen people wearing their masks below their noses and one woman without a mask. These mask-less individuals tend to stick out among all the masked people. My blood pressure rises every time I see them. I dodge them as best I can. When I wanted a bottle of BBQ sauce, I couldn’t get one because a mask-less woman was standing right there in front of the BBQ sauce selection.

      The behavior of these improperly masked and mask-less individuals strikes me as disrespectful, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and, yes, selfish. And those I saw this weekend were not young adults, but mostly individuals in their 40s. My county of Rice is currently in the six hotspot counties in Minnesota for COVID cases, according to an article on MPR. I don’t get why it’s so difficult for people to mask up (and properly).

      And I am so weary of hearing all the criticism about our governor in his efforts to stop the spread of COVID and help keep Minnesotans safe. Scenes like crowded bars/restaurants reopening in defiance of executive orders make me angry. People can support these businesses via take-out and leaving generous tips. I know that won’t cover all the income loss, but it’s “doing something” instead of complaining.

      • The saddest part are those people filling bars and restaurants against the MN stay safe orders shows no empathy for those who are possibly at risk.
        I do wonder how we will all treat each other when this is all over.
        It is like heaven and hell just dumped everyone together and said “Fine, you guys figure this out! We are going on holiday. When we return we shall see what who survived (Good/Evil). Good luck!” Hard for anyone to keep hope and faith alive in these situations. Yet, we must!

      • Keeping hope and faith alive are vital. Thank you for that reminder, dear Paula.

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