Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Great Invader readies for school August 26, 2021

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An abandoned rural Minnesota schoolhouse, used for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a rising revolt threatened the kingdom, especially the remote villages.

The Great Invader observed the discontent, the disagreements, the squabbling and outright lies. He delighted in the division permeating the land. He was an opportunist who wasted no time sneaking into villages and even cities. The more misinformation spread, the more he gloated, the easier his mission to inflict sickness and death upon the land.

When he learned the Ministry of Education was meeting to discuss plans that would thwart his efforts, he took note. He needed to gather information, to strategize and then to implement a strong plan of attack.

So The Great Invader slid into the meeting room, tucking into a corner unseen. His invisibility was especially useful in situations like this. Already, he liked what he saw—people packed together, most without protective armor. Perfect. He felt giddy inside. He had allies.

ANGRY, DEFIANT VILLAGERS SPEAK

When the villagers stepped up to address the Ministry of Education, The Great Invader could hardly contain his joy. They—with the exception of two—sided with him, expressing outrage toward any efforts to protect the young children of the kingdom. This was going so much better than he had hoped.

“You will not tell us what to do,” said one defiant mother, her son posed beside her. “My children will not wear masks when they are in the village school.” That defied official recommendations from the Ministry of Health to wear protective face masks.

The Great Invader nearly revealed his presence by pumping his arm in celebration. That sent a ripple of air into the room. He reminded himself then to sit still and listen.

THE GREAT INVADER LOVES WHAT HE’S HEARING

Another mother stepped forward, claiming a mask would traumatize her children, that a face covering was unnecessary, and that she, and her children, had rights. The Great Invader nearly danced right there in the midst of his powerful grassroots allies.

But even he couldn’t believe the mother’s statement that “No kids have died (from the virus he inflicted).” He knew this to be a bold lie and hadn’t expected such an uncaring and uninformed public declaration of untruth. Yet, this only bolstered his campaign, so he quietly applauded.

And he applauded, too, when a villager attacked the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and called face masks “child abuse.” He hadn’t even considered that, noting the need to share this with his Office of Misinformation. He felt such gratitude for the angry villagers filling the room.

UGH, SOMEONE CARES, HE THINKS

But he loathed the two mothers who spoke in support of masking in the village school. The shared their concerns for the health and safety of their children, all the children and the village educators. This was not helpful. Not at all.

PLACES TO BE, WORK TO DO

In the end, The Great Invader needn’t have worried. The Ministry of Education voted only to strongly recommend (not require) wearing of face masks in the village school. He noted, though, two dissenting votes. One ministry member expressed her deep concern about the safety of the young village children. The Great Invader filed that for future reference before slipping from the room. He felt certain many of the village children would come to school unmasked. Oh, how this pleased him. He could roam freely, infecting the youngest with incredible ease.

Now, with schools opening soon, he had work to do. Routes to map. He would target the children of the kingdom, especially those too young to take a magic potion that helped many of the village elders and others keep him at bay. He held deep disdain for those who chose to protect themselves, their families and friends, and other villagers. How dare they challenge him. How dare they try to stop him. How dare they…

NOTE: In every story truth exists, this one no exception. The setting and quotes in this story are, sadly, real. Be safe. Be well. Care about our children. And each other. The Great Invader (COVID-19) is still hard at work in The Land of Plenty and beyond.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on COVID-19 in Rice County August 12, 2021

From the front page of the April 17, 2020, Faribault Daily News.

ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, family and friends of the Rev. Craig Breimhorst will gather to celebrate his life during a long-delayed funeral. This husband, father of three, grandfather of seven, and spiritual and community leader died on April 16, 2020. His death marked the first COVID-related fatality in my county of Rice.

I remember well the shocking headline in the local newspaper: Faribault pastor dies from COVID-19 complications. That singular head and the story that followed shook me and imprinted upon me the seriousness of this virus. This was no longer a virus an ocean away or half a country away in New York. This was here. In Minnesota. In my county. In my community.

MORE THAN NUMBERS, THESE WERE INDIVIDUALS WHO LOVED & WERE LOVED

And now here we are, nearly 1 ½ years later and the virus still rages. Since Breimhorst’s death, an additional 112 Rice County residents have died from COVID. I knew some of those individuals or had connections to them. The most recent death—an individual between the ages of 45-49—was reported on Wednesday.

Still, despite that death count of 113, despite 351 hospitalizations (62 in ICU ranging in age from three months to 95), despite 8,425 cumulative COVID cases (as of Wednesday) in Rice County, there are still doubters. Still anti-vacciners. Still those who refuse to wear masks, or argue/complain about wearing masks. Still those who cannot look beyond themselves and their agendas to the health and safety of their friends, families, neighbors, and, yes, even strangers.

SHOWING WE CARE. OR NOT.

Now more than ever with the highly-contagious and more serious delta variant, we need to care. And take care. Breimhorst’s online obituary ends with this requirement: Everyone not vaccinated of all ages are requested to wear a mask (at the funeral). Among Rice County residents ages 12 and older, 60.7 percent are fully-vaccinated, according to data listed by the Centers for Disease Control. Additional stats show 52.3 percent of the county’s population fully-vaccinated. That leaves a lot of unvaccinated people in Rice County. Too many by choice. And then those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination and have no choice.

PLEASE, WEAR A FACE MASK

Rice County remains in the high community transmission category for COVID. And that is leading our local school district to rethink its “no masks when school starts” stand of just a few weeks ago. The Faribault School Board will vote soon on whether to require masks of staff and students when classes resume. We, as a community, owe it to our kids to protect them, to offer the safest and healthiest environment possible in which to learn. I cannot even fathom why anyone would object to masks to protect our children, especially. But then I can’t fathom either why people refuse vaccination.

A recent article in the Faribault Daily News quotes local student representatives saying that students feel wearing masks “is a small request…if it means staying in school in person.” Additionally, those reps state that vaccine hesitancy “seems to come from parents more than students themselves.” That doesn’t surprise me. Even though I don’t have kids in school, I still care about kids in Faribault.

I feel thankful for businesses, churches and others who are now asking, even requiring, the public (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) to wear face masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID. Rice County is once again requiring face coverings to be worn in all county government buildings. And, yes, I’m definitely masking in indoor public places, adding another layer of protection to my vaccine protection. I don’t want to get a break-through case of COVID and then perhaps unknowingly spread COVID to my friends, family, neighbors or strangers. I feel a strong sense of personal, social and community responsibility.

I would like to think that I am also honoring the Rev. Craig Breimhorst by masking. A line in his obit reads: With Craig, love always won and love will always win. Those are words to ponder, to take to heart as this pandemic rages, to remember that love is more than a word. It is an action.

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NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine or anti-masking, please do not comment. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to those views on this, my personal blog. My stands on wearing face masks and vaccination are rooted in care. And in love.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My observations about masking in rural Minnesota March 8, 2021

A sign posted at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

TODAY MY COUNTY OF RICE reported its 92nd COVID-related death. That saddens me. I don’t know the identity of this latest individual to die from the virus. But that matters not. What matters is that, to family and friends, this is the loss of a loved one.

That’s something we all need to remember. Ninety-two represents much more than a number added to the growing statistics. It represents a life.

With that said, I need to vent. And if you’re weary of reading about anything COVID-related, then stop reading right now. But I’m frustrated, beyond frustrated.

On Saturday, Randy and I headed to two small towns south of Owatonna. Just to get out of town for a bit. We’ve previously toured both, but several years ago. Driving into rural Minnesota, parking on Main Street and then walking to see what we can find is an adventure.

WHAT MASKS?

Our day trip into these two rural Steele County communities on Saturday proved to be an adventure alright. What we found was absolutely, totally, disheartening. Compliance to Minnesota’s state mask mandate is pretty much non-existent. That left me exiting several businesses—a hardware store and boutiques—before the doors had barely closed behind me. And we’re not talking just customers here without masks. We’re talking owners and employees.

Never mind the signs posted outside these businesses stating that “masks are required.” Why bother? Oh, because the state requires posting of these signs, apparently.

FEELING DISRESPECTED

Here’s how I felt when I saw those business owners and employees without masks. I felt disrespected. I felt unsafe. I felt unwelcome. I felt frustrated. I felt angry. I felt like they didn’t really want my business. And, as much as I wanted to say something to them about my feelings, I didn’t. You never know who’s carrying a gun these days and may harm you if you speak up. So I walked out.

And the thing is, several of those small town boutiques, especially, were inviting little shops filled with merchandise that may have interested me. But I felt uncomfortable from the moment the unmasked shopkeepers greeted me and I turned to make a hasty exit.

BUSINESSES LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Interestingly enough, while Randy was shopping at a popular family-owned meat market in the town a mile off the interstate, he found full mask mandate compliance and even a plexi-glass shield separating cashiers from customers. Plus hand sanitizer. So kudos to that meat market and the local grocery store owner, who was also masked. I observed a woman I’d previously seen, unmasked at the boutique, walk into the meat market wearing a mask. Interesting, huh? A business sets the tone for customer compliance.

This masking issue isn’t a problem unique to small towns. When we returned to Faribault and stopped to pick up a few groceries, I spotted mask-less customers. They are increasing in number. The non-maskers and half-maskers. But at least I don’t see business owners and employees without masks in my community (except at the farm implement dealer). That’s the difference. In the two small towns in Steele County, business owners and employees were without masks. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Masks are a scientifically-proven way to prevent spread of COVID-19. Why risk the health of customers? This, what I perceive as selfish and uncaring behavior, left me with a really negative perspective of these two towns. And that’s something no business, no community, needs, especially now.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fauci & face masks February 17, 2021

I APPRECIATE DR. ANTHONY FAUCI. He’s been a strong, calm, unwavering source of factual information about COVID-19 since the pandemic began. I trust him. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he speaks as a scientist, and also as an individual and official who cares deeply about others. He speaks truth, with no interest in self-glory. He never compromised, even in the face of public criticism from the highest powers.

Now he’s been named a recipient of the 2021 Dan David Prize for his contributions to health and medicine. The accolades and accompanying $1 million prize money are well-deserved. In noting his accomplishments, the Israeli-headquartered foundation cited Fauci’s global work in infectious diseases. HIV. Ebola. Zika. COVID-19. That’s an impressive list of professional credits.

Fauci impresses me as a man of incredible character. Or, as the awardees stated, “speaking truth to power.”

When I consider this scientist and all he’s done for the health and well-being of not only Americans, but also the global world, I consider how his expertise is still dismissed by some. Too many really. Just recently I walked away from a conversation in which the value of wearing face masks was questioned. Dr. Fauci’s name was mentioned. Although I voiced my disagreement, I realized it held no weight to these individuals. So I walked away.

I photographed this sign on a business in Crosby. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

I am walking away more and more these days from people. Generally not people in conversation, because I’m seldom around anyone long enough to carry on a conversation. But walking away from people in public places who refuse to either wear face masks or who do not wear them over their mouths and noses. Those numbers are increasing, and I just do not get it. Walk into any grocery store in Faribault and you’ll see them—the non-maskers, the half-maskers. Even some cashiers are half-maskers and, when I see that, I call them out. I figure they owe it to customers to protect and respect them if they want their business.

We have a mask mandate in Minnesota requiring those ages six and over to wear face masks in public places. Children ages two to five are strongly encouraged to also wear masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

When I pick up the local daily newspaper, I see photos of people grouped together, unmasked. And when I turn to the sports page, photo upon photo upon photo shows half-masked athletes. It’s disheartening. Disappointing. I am weary, too, of the political rhetoric over mask mandates.

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

I want people to do the right thing. Just wear a face mask and wear it correctly. Or, as my nearly 5-year-old granddaughter told her little friend recently, “It goes over your nose and mouth!” And, yes, she wears a face mask as does her little brother, who just turned two. If preschoolers can mask properly, so can adults.

For the 15 minutes or half hour or hour adults are grocery shopping or whatever in public, they can wear a mask and wear it correctly. Hanging around your neck doesn’t count. Nor does wearing a plastic shield without a mask meet CDC guidelines. The CDC now recommends double masking for added protection. I don’t know what it will take for people to understand the importance of mask-wearing. A locally-targeted marketing campaign. Public service announcements. My granddaughter accompanying me to the grocery stores in Faribault with her masking message.

Masking, and masking correctly, is about keeping all of us healthy and safe. Me. You. Your friends and neighbors and loved ones. Strangers. My granddaughter. And it’s about common sense and believing scientists, like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

FYI: Click here to read specifics on Minnesota’s mask mandate.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Great Invader,” neither fable nor fairy tale February 2, 2021

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Edited painting by Ruby from the 2018 student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ONCE UPON A TIME, in The Land of Plenty…

Ah, a fairy tale, you say. Not exactly. Rather, this is a story rooted in reality. A story with a main character who, for ease of writing, shall be identified in secondary references as “he.” Not that The Great Invader is male.

So let’s dive into the story. Once upon a time in The Land of Plenty, The Great Invader landed, making himself comfortably at home. He was, by nature, a traveler. But he wasn’t the type of guest you’d knowingly invite into your home. You know the kind. Ungrateful. Demanding. Messy. And mean, just plain mean. Because of those undesirable traits, he soon found himself on the road, hopping from place to place under a guise of masterful deception. West Coast to East Coast. Then to the South and Up North and to the Midwest. He wanted, above all, to avoid detection and negative publicity.

But word soon got out about The Great Invader. Scientists found him especially fascinating. The more they studied the strange-looking traveler with his signature spiky hair, the more alarmed they grew. They realized he was much more than he appeared. Dangerous. He left a path of death and destruction wherever he went. Yes, that’s a cliché. But it fits.

The scientists warned about the intruder and suggested ways to deal with him. By then they’d studied him in their labs and determined that he traveled mostly by air. No ticket required. “Wear masks,” public health officials who collaborated with the scientists, advised. “Distance yourself from others. Avoid crowds. If you’re sick or feel like you’re coming down with something, stay home.” All of those tactics would discourage The Great Invader. But these proactive protocols were especially difficult for some people in The Land of Plenty to hear, let alone follow. They didn’t like anyone telling them what to do.

The Great Invader was acutely aware of these efforts to stop his adventures. He also recognized the discontent and division spreading across the land like a California wildfire. He needed a plan. And he didn’t have to think too hard. He’d simply rely on people who doubted scientists, who took little stock in warnings from health officials, who spread false information, especially via social media. People who could be a voice. He didn’t much care if that voice was loud or insidiously quiet.

As the months passed, The Great Invader found his hands-off strategy working quite well. He traveled to nearly every corner of The Land of Plenty. Even to the smallest village, where the villagers never dreamed he would visit and leave his imprint. “Why would The Great Invader come here? We have no great theaters or art museums or sports arenas or five-star restaurants or any major tourist attractions,” the villagers reasoned. So many went on with life as usual. Yet, an undercurrent of concern began to bubble when evidence of The Great Invader’s presence surfaced in the remotest of villages.

Meanwhile, across The Land of Plenty, scientists, health and government officials, and even journalists, were tracking The Great Invader on his journey around the country. And the world. They soon discovered they were no longer dealing with a sole sojourner, but rather many with magical powers. The spiky haired traveler had reproduced millions, if not billions, of times and created new versions of himself. This frightened the scientists, who by then had called upon experts to develop a battle plan. They needed to stop the traveler as he asserted his deadly powers. So researchers created a powerful potion to protect the people.

Soon squabbles arose as to who would get the potion first. The Great Invader laughed. He thrived on chaos, confusion and discontent. And lies. He admired selfishness.

He also secretly applauded those who defied common sense and science. He reveled, especially, in those in The Land of Plenty who refused to wear face masks. He celebrated every single person who wore their masks below their noses. And he saw plenty of those, whom he considered valued allies. The mask-less and the half-maskers allowed The Great Invader to travel with ease. If he found himself temporarily removed from a region, he just moved on for a while, only to return when people thought he’d permanently left.

And so, while the people of the land claimed all sorts of indignities brought on by The Great Invader and even tried to stop distribution of the powerful potion, he continued mapping his routes, plotting strategies and documenting his travels in his Once Upon a Time journal.

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NOTE: In every story there are truths, this one no exception. To all who have encountered The Great Invader/COVID-19 at his worst, I am sorry.

Observations in my community of Faribault sparked the idea for this story. As COVID-19 infections and deaths rise in Rice County, I see too many individuals in public who are wearing masks below their noses and/or mouths or not masking at all. I am beyond frustrated. We’re not talking just a few people. While I shopped at a local big box retailer, a smaller discount store and grocery stores recently, I saw perhaps 30 individuals who were half-maskers, plus a mask-less couple and children old enough to wear masks (but who were unmasked). Employees were among those half-maskers. I implore the people of Faribault to, please, just wear a tight-fitting, multi-layered mask, and wear it over your mouth AND nose. It’s not that difficult.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

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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.

READ THEIR NAMES

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.

MASK WEARING REMAINS AN ISSUE

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.

HOPEFUL AS VACCINES ROLL OUT

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

 

About that “stupid mask…” October 26, 2020

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

“…if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask…”

As his words slid across me, I felt my anger and frustration flare as they too often do these days. I wanted to lash out at him, this guy who expressed his disdain for wearing a face mask. But I held back as I waited for the bank teller to return with my deposit slip. I suppressed the message I wanted to share with him that wearing a mask protects others from COVID-19.

I wanted to tell him, too, about the 87-year-old Faribault resident who died the day prior due to complications of the virus. Dave. Part of my faith family at Trinity Lutheran Church. A man of faith, character and integrity. Well-known in the community, he was the second-generation owner of a funeral home, operated since 1995 by his son Scott.

As I write, I picture Dave with his broad smile, his genuine care and concern for others. To run a funeral home, you have to be an individual of compassion and understanding, of grace and kindness. A listener and comforter.

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

All these thoughts filter through my mind when I consider how too many people still fail to wear face masks, fail to follow social distancing guidelines, gather in crowds and/or criticize these public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

I see this every time I’m in public. The 40-something unmasked dad at the grocery store shopping with his unmasked elementary-aged son while nearby a 4-year-old has no problem masking up. The two men in another grocery store likewise without masks. The customer in the phone store who pulls his mask on and off with no concern for staff or other customers. And the young 20-something who walks into the phone shop like he owns the place, without a care for adhering to the many signs that call for wearing a mask and social distancing inside the business. The waitress at the end of the bar, standing with two other waitresses, her mask below her nose, as we pick up take-out. It is among the reasons I won’t dine at a restaurant. Half-masking doesn’t protect anyone.

I am beyond frustrated with what I perceive as selfishness, lack of care for others and lack of respect for science and our healthcare workers and so much more. At this point in the progression of COVID, I don’t expect opinions to change. I expect the “if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask” attitude to continue.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I expect my state senator will continue with his outspoken outrage over emergency measures taken in our state to protect residents during this global pandemic. After all, as he pointed out in a recent radio interview, his district has only tallied 20 deaths. (That number increased since the senator made that statement.) He continually terms the virus a metro problem. Statistics, facts, show COVID-19 is running rampant now in rural Minnesota. This is a disease that doesn’t distinguish between city or small town/rural, suburban or urban.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020.

That brings me back to Dave, now the 10th Rice County resident to die due to complications from COVID-19. But Dave is not just a number. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a man who for decades comforted grieving families. Just like the first person, the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, to die of the virus in my county in April.

This is so important to remember. Behind every number, every statistic, is a person. An individual who loved and was loved. Dave was part of my faith family, thus his death from COVID affects me personally. So when I hear someone say, “…if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask…” or I see people without masks or half-maskers or I hear of people attending sizable social gatherings, I feel my blood pressure and anger rising.

Dave will not have the funeral he deserves, like so many who have passed during COVID-19. His will be a private family service “in consideration of family health risks.” I respect and appreciate that decision. Too many funerals (and weddings) have been the source of COVID outbreaks in Minnesota.

FOR OUR HEALTH AND YOURS, the #1 reason to mask up. Posted at a Northfield business. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yes, we’re all getting COVID weary. I get that. I understand the challenges, especially as we move into winter and the holiday season. This is not easy. But we have the power to, at the very least, do our best to protect ourselves and each other. To listen to the scientists and health experts. To don our masks. And to make smart, not stupid, choices.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those face masks… August 28, 2020

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A clown mask for sale at a Minnesota antique shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo

 

REMEMBER THOSE MOLDED plastic masks, popular Halloween costumes back in the 1960s? OK, if you, then you are younger than me. But I loved those masks because I could transform into someone other than the skinny farm girl I was in real life.

 

A Halloween mask for sale at Antiques of the Midwest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I still remember the year I pressed a gypsy woman mask to my face, pulled on my mom’s colorful, full skirt and a blouse, and slipped bangles onto my arms. I was not elementary-aged Audrey ready to race about town gathering Hershey candy bars, Tootsie Pop suckers and the occasional rock-hard colored homemade popcorn ball that threatened to break teeth. Rather I was this free spirit of a gypsy seeking new adventure.

 

An Archie mask for sale at an antique shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Yet, I wasn’t quite free. I felt trapped inside that hot Halloween mask. It was uncomfortable. It limited my vision as did my missing prescription eyeglasses. In between candy stops, I sometimes pulled the mask up, freeing my face. But I put up with all this uncomfortableness for the fun of Halloween.

 

Face masks crafted and sent to me by Penny, a blogger friend in Texas.

 

Now fast forward to today. Each time I leave the house to go to a public place, I grab a cloth face mask. And hand sanitizer. It’s become as routine as grabbing my handbag, as slipping on my shoes. Like Gypsy Audrey of decades ago, I feel conflicted, though, about that face mask. I absolutely, 100 percent, support the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and am thankful for the mask mandate in Minnesota. But I don’t like wearing a mask. Just like back in my gypsy days, I find face masks hot, uncomfortable and limiting my vision whenever my glasses fog. But I put up with all the uncomfortableness because I care about protecting others from a disease that has sickened and killed people in my circle or connected to my circle.

 

A sign posted at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

 

So, when I head into public and see people without masks (still) or wearing them incorrectly (not covering their noses), my irritation rises. I don’t buy into the “you’re taking away my personal freedom” argument. If I enter a business, I need to wear a shirt and shoes or I won’t be served. If I get in a vehicle, the law requires I belt myself in. And, in Minnesota we also have a hands-off when driving cellphone law.

 

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

 

While I’m limiting my public circulation, I’m still out and about. And I’ve seen, in Faribault, way too many people who are either not wearing masks or are “half-maskers,” a new term I just heard a few days ago in a media report. The report focused on the importance of covering the nose, where the virus thrives and can be spewed by simply breathing. You don’t need to be an infectious disease doctor to grasp that basic health concept.

 

Wearing a face mask the right way, covering your nose and mouth. I photographed this toy monkey in the window of an historic home in Dundas, Minnesota.

 

About two weeks ago when I went to the local dollar store to pick up greeting cards, I encountered a customer without a mask and saw both cashiers and the customer in front of me wearing their masks below their noses. That same day, I spotted two grocery store employees at two different stores with masks below their noses. And my last visit to the dollar store, I once again saw an unmasked customer and a different cashier with her mask not covering her nose. I’d had enough. I politely asked the cashier to pull her mask over her nose and advised her that the mask was doing no good if she left her nose exposed. She reluctantly pulled the cloth face covering up and then, even before I was completely turned away, pulled it back down, her eyes glaring dislike toward me. I reached for the hand sanitizer in my pocket and squeezed a generous amount onto my palm.

I don’t get it. I just do not get it. Businesses want our business. Yet I see employees wearing masks incorrectly. People want this pandemic to end. Yet, some are half-maskers or no maskers (and that includes customers who come into my husband’s workplace) and/or believe this pandemic is all a hoax. It’s not. It’s as real as the two sympathy cards I’ve sent to friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.

 

FYI: Click here to read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on how and why to wear a face mask and more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t be an outlaw in Northfield: Protect the herd August 2, 2020

In the front display window of a downtown Northfield, Minnesota, business.

 

SUPERHEROES mask up.

 

The image represents the James-Younger Gang.

 

As do outlaws.

 

The reason the Rare Pair gives for wearing face masks.

 

And those who love others.

 

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Northfield is home to Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges.

 

When I walked through downtown Northfield—the place of Cows, Colleges and Contentment—on Friday evening, I intentionally looked for signage on Minnesota’s new face mask mandate. This college city did not disappoint. I found signs ranging from serious to humorous.

 

More humor in a COVID-19 sign that relates to safe practices outdoors.

 

I especially welcomed those that made me laugh, something we all need in these days of living with COVID-19, when even leaving our homes sometimes seems like venturing into the Wild Wild West.

 

Site of the famous bank raid, now a museum.

 

Tour the museum and learn the story of the bank raid.

 

Northfield Historical Society face mask humor..

 

At the Northfield Historical Society, the historians draw on Northfield’s claim to fame—the defeat of the James-Younger Gang during an 1876 robbery of the First National Bank—to get across the mask mandate message. Please Don’t Be an Outlaw, states the message on museum doors.

 

A message posted on the front door of Antiques of Northfield.

 

At Antiques of Northfield, a personal note from Carole about the store’s temporary closure made me simultaneously laugh at her comment and then reflect. Too many of our seniors have died as a result of contracting COVID-19.

 

The sign on the door of The Contented Cow, a British style pub in downtown Northfield.

 

Some mask signs are more straightforward, like at The Contented Cow, with a please added to the request.

 

This Northfield business wants to stay open.

 

At a home furnishings and floor covering store, they want customers to mask up so businesses can stay open, as good a reason as any for masks.

 

The #1 reason to mask up.

 

I appreciate, too, the signage that states the clear and obvious scientific reason for wearing a face mask during a global pandemic: for our health & yours.

 

For those who forgot their masks… Note that a new Minnesota state law went into effect on August 1, raising the age to buy tobacco to 21. These signs were photographed on July 31.

 

At the tobacco shop, customers can even get a free mask inside the store.

 

Customers can’t possibly miss all the signage at this Northfield business.

 

Whatever it takes. We all need to get the message loud and clear that masks help stop the spread of this virus. Yeah, they’re uncomfortable and hot and diminish social interaction. But we can manage those minor inconveniences because, you know, this is something simple we can do to show our care for others and protect each other.

 

Just do it. Wearing a mask is required in indoor public places in Minnesota.

 

And masks are mandatory in Minnesota, along with 32 others states (as of this writing).

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mask up, Minnesota July 22, 2020

A sign posted at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

 

A PRESS CONFERENCE WEDNESDAY afternoon led by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz could have passed as a persuasive speech when he announced a statewide mask mandate effective at 11:59 pm Friday.

I needed no convincing as I listened and took notes. I’ve consumed enough reliable information from health officials and others to long ago recognize the value of wearing face masks during this global pandemic. Common sense also tells me that masking up helps limit the spread of the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus.

Other state officials, including Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan who lost a brother to COVID, two infectious disease doctors and two small business owners joined the governor as he announced executive order 20-81 requiring face masks to be worn in all indoor public places in our state.

 

A woman attending an outdoor band concert in Faribault last week masks up in this edited file photo.

 

I’ve awaited this announcement for weeks as city after city in Minnesota—most recently Northfield in my county of Rice—adopted ordinances requiring face masks. The governor and his team are aiming for a 90-95 percent compliance rate to help slow the spread of COVID and save lives.

“This is a small sacrifice for a potential big gain,” Walz said as he referenced health and economic benefits.

The lieutenant governor called for Minnesotans to make wearing masks a part of their routine, to “normalize this” and to help kids get comfortable in masks to prepare for schools reopening. Children under five don’t need to wear masks, although masks are encouraged for anyone over age two.

At times, the news conference sounded like a pep talk. “Minnesotans, we can do this,” Walz said. “…we are good at doing things for others.” Wearing a Paul Bunyan buffalo plaid mask, the governor also urged people to be kind to one another in adopting this “science based solution.”

 

Social distancing remains part of the safety protocol to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 as noted in this sign posted at the Steele County History Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

 

Yet, several, including Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm warned that “A mask is not magic.” People still need to stay home when sick, avoid large crowds, practice six-feet minimum social distancing, wash/sanitize their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces… The state health department weeks ago recommended the mask mandate and Malcolm reiterated the importance of wearing face masks to help protect others and control the spread of COVID-19. She also noted that masking presents a psychological benefit in reminding people that “COVID is still with us.”

She echoed the governor’s sentiments with an encouraging, “We can do this.”

While Malcolm focused on the health aspect, Steve Grove, who leads the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, focused on the economic side. Wearing masks will keep the Minnesota economy open and pave the way for further reopening, he said. The Minnesota Retailers Association earlier backed a mask mandate. He urged individual responsibility in wearing masks while also pointing out the need for businesses to assure employees are following the order and that signs are posted requiring customers to be masked. To that end, the state is shipping disposable masks to one Chamber of Commerce in each of Minnesota’s counties for dispersal to businesses.

When customers don’t comply, Grove suggested “thoughtful conversation.” He doesn’t want, he said, for businesses to become “the mask police.”

 

I photographed this mask wearing local while attending a car cruise in downtown Faribault in mid May. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, May 2020.

 

At one point, the governor called not wearing a mask “reckless and not neighborly.” I could sense his frustration with how masks have become a political issue. “My responsibility,” he said, “is to follow the best guidance and the best science.” But then the Democratic governor noted that “President Trump is telling you to wear a mask.” Walz had hoped Republican leaders in Minnesota would support him in issuing a mask mandate. Up until now, they have not. I feel the governor’s frustrations, too, with those who make this a political issue.

I’ve felt incredibly frustrated also with the lack of mask wearing in my community among the general public, but especially by employees in several local businesses. They want our business, yet fail to recognize the importance of protecting customers. I recently decided that I would no longer shop at local businesses where staff do not mask up. Those include local hardware/farm supply stores and two bar/restaurants (where we’ve done take-out only). I also determined to no longer allow a mask-less grocery store cashier to check out my groceries. She wore a face mask around her neck, where it did absolutely no good.

Now all that changes with executive order 20-81, an order which DEED Commissioner Grove says is “rooted in health and growing our economy.”

Mask up, Minnesota. It’s the right thing to do for yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community, your county, your state and your country.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling