Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A COVID-19 update & thoughts from Rice County, Minnesota January 22, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Valley Grove Cemetery, used for illustration only.

SLIGHTLY OVER A MONTH has passed since I wrote about COVID-19 in my southeastern Minnesota county. And in those 34 days, 22 more individuals in Rice County have died due to the virus, bringing our total deaths to 69. Since the pandemic began, the number of people infected with COVID (January 21 county stats) stands at 6,139.

My heart breaks when I consider the death data, because behind every number is a person. Someone who loved and was loved. The virus claimed individuals ranging in age from 24 – 104. Most (42) lived in long term care centers.

I scrolled through area obituaries to find a few of those individuals who died due to COVID. I appreciate when families publicly share that cause of death as I think it’s a personally powerful way to make a statement to the community that, This virus is deadly.


In my brief search, I found these names: Craig, 71; Ted, 77; Harvey, 75; Chuck, 89; Norma, 92; and Dave, 87. Dave, part of my faith family, was a long-time funeral home director prior to retiring and passing along the business to his son. Craig was a Faribault pastor, the first in my county to die of COVID-19 in April.

While my immediate family has thus far remained healthy, many extended family members have gotten and recovered from the virus. Friends have also been ill, including one hospitalized for two weeks. I indirectly know others who’ve been hospitalized and/or died. They are individuals I’ve sometimes prayed for for weeks as they’ve battled the virus and struggled to recover.

My niece will tell you the story of a friend who has suffered serious, severe and long-lasting complications from COVID-19. That’s the thing about this virus. We never know if we will experience only a mild case or something much more serious. Even deadly. Age is not a given protection.


Wearing a multi-layered, tight-fitting mask (and, no, a plastic face shield alone doesn’t count as CDC-approved protection); socially distancing; washing/sanitizing hands often; avoiding time with those outside our household, especially in enclosed spaces; and staying home when sick or with COVID symptoms remain as important as ever to help stop the spread of the virus. I can’t stress those health and safety protocols enough.

I continue to see people in public without masks or wearing them below their noses and sometimes even below their mouths. That frustrates me to no end—this inability to wear a mask or to wear it correctly by covering both the mouth AND the nose. It’s not that difficult. Even my 2-year-old grandson wears his mask properly. Why is it so hard for adults (like the cashiers at a local dollar store, some grocery store customers, etc.) to do so? Most troubling was the half-masker sporting a jacket for an area small town volunteer fire and rescue department. I want to scream at these people and confront them. (I don’t. I avoid them.) And, yes, that may sound judgy. But at this point in the pandemic, when a new variant is increasing spread, masks are even more important. People ought to care about protecting others. They ought to care that their neighbors are getting really sick and/or dying.


As of yesterday, 2,039 people in Rice County, or 3.1 percent, have started the vaccination process targeted first to those living in long term care settings and working in healthcare. It’s a start in a county with a population of 65,765. Some vaccines have also been set aside for childcare workers, educators and those age 65 and over. That said, the supply cannot meet demand. Yet, I am thankful for vaccination beginning and hopeful that will amp up under the Biden administration.

Randy and I are some eight months shy of the age 65 cut-off. I’m not worried about myself as much as my husband. He faces possible COVID exposure in the workplace. (And, yes, there have been cases.) As a highly-skilled and in high demand automotive machinist, working from home is not an option. So I ask him to mask and distance himself from co-workers and customers, especially those non-maskers and half-maskers.

If Randy gets COVID, I likely will, too. And I’d rather not test how my body will react. A severe case of whooping cough at age 50, which left me incredibly sick for three months, gasping for air, using an inhaler and taking a steroid, shows me just how awful an illness that affects the lungs and impedes breathing. I expect COVID would be worse. Much worse.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “A COVID-19 update & thoughts from Rice County, Minnesota”

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights from your area. I think the numbers or the obituaries only show part of the whole. That is unfortunate as many from the start tried to define the virus as a hoax.

    We are now under a nightly curfew here in The Netherlands and restrictions to stay home or essential travel only until 9 Feb, making this the longest lockdown yet for this country as we have had some sort of lockdown since mid November 2020.

    As I see the numbers in MN and the obituaries from Duluth daily I fear for you there if and when the variants appear.

    Here, we know we have them. Reducing person to person contact so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed is and has been a National priority.

    Now, what people do… that is another thing, and none of us can control the actions we see in others except by example.

    • Paula, thank you for your concern for us back in your home state of Minnesota and also for sharing what’s happening in The Netherlands.

      As you likely know from following Minnesota news, our most recent lockdown here has ended. Schools are reopening and youth sports have resumed. And restaurants and bars are back open at 50 percent capacity. I question some of these decisions at this point in the pandemic, but I know many are putting immense pressure on those making decisions. It’s a complex, multi-faceted issue, which still remains way too political. Btw, the more contagious variant of COVID was found in four Minnesota metro counties several weeks ago.

      At least on the national level, we now have leadership that takes the pandemic seriously and leads by example. That’s such an important point you make about leading by example. Hopefully more people will begin to look at the science rather than listen to misinformation and rhetoric. I feel hopeful.

      Stay well, my friend.

  2. Missy’s Crafty Mess Says:

    Praying you and Randy can avoid it! It’s heartbreaking how many lives have been touched by it. I think that “they” could have come up with better ways to protect the vulnerable population.

  3. I finally have a feeling of hope for the future, with the COVID situation. Before, hope was not something I really believed in. Yu & Randy stay safe & well. Sending prayers! ❤

  4. Praying you both remain healthy through all of this. You are doing everything right!


    re: Mask wearing: I just don’t get it! I never realized how little we have evolved as a human race. We are leading the WORLD in cases per capita here in ARIZONA! So many “maskholes”! I have refrained from speaking out when they cross my path…as you said, “SO FRUSTRATING”!!!!! Frightening and deeply disappointing….I am so terrified of the covid that I’m afraid to stick my big toe out the door! Vaccine Thursday…FINGERS CROSSED!!!!!!!!!!!!

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