Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

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

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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.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U

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.

A POWERFUL LETTER BY A DAUGHTER

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.

I JUST DON’T GET IT.

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.

I MISS MY MOM.

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

 

Focus on mental illness: A Minnesota family’s story December 2, 2020

I READ THE BOOK in a single day. That should tell you something. Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son by Mindy Greiling is an incredibly powerful book. It is painfully honest, deeply personal and informative. A must read, whether you know little or a lot about people with serious mental illnesses.

Greiling writes about the flaws in the mental healthcare system—from lack of providers and treatments and options to poor communication to the struggles families face, too often alone.

You will cry with this mother as she shares the challenges faced by her son, Jim, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and also a substance abuser. You will feel her pain, her fear, her anger. This is her story. Jim’s story. Her family’s story. Maybe your, or a loved one’s, story.

GRIEF. ANGER. ADVOCACY.

Mindy writes of transitioning through the stages of grief. From anger to advocacy. Not because her son has died, but rather grieving the loss of what may have been if not for Jim’s disease. She takes her personal experiences and uses her position as a state representative to effect changes in Minnesota laws and ways in which people view mental illness. She became involved in the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She became not only Jim’s advocate, but an advocate for the broader base. All the while managing her own fears and feelings of being alone through all of this, of experiencing trauma.

IMAGINE.

Imagine if your son heard voices directing him to kill you. Imagine if your son suffered from paranoia. Imagine if your son had to get off the one most effective medication for his disease because side effects could kill him. Imagine…

This was/is reality for the Greiling family as Jim continues to navigate life and his disease. But it is also a story of hope and resilience and the strength of not only Mindy, but of her son. She recognizes that, even with schizoaffective disorder, Jim is capable of so much. She believes in him. Never gives up. You will see that repeated throughout the pages of this book written by a determined and caring mother faced with crisis after crisis.

There is no fairy tale ending to this story. Jim’s is a life-long disease with no cure.

PUTTING A FACE TO A DISEASE

I admire Mindy, who sought her son’s input in writing this book released in early October. I admire Jim’s strength in the public telling of his story. Such first-hand accounts make an impact, take a disease beyond statistics to a face. An individual. A family. This is a mother trying her best to secure help for her son, to advocate when needed, to make tough decisions when necessary. This is a family in need of understanding and support, all too often missing when it comes to mental illness. When Mindy’s husband, Roger, emails extended family and asks them to send get well cards to Jim in a hospital psych ward, my heart breaks. But this is too often reality. Families feel alone, without much-needed support from family and friends.

LEARN. LISTEN. SUPPORT.

I encourage you to read Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son published by the University of Minnesota Press. And then, when you’ve finished, reassess how you feel about individuals who are dealing with mental illness. Consider that they did not choose these brain diseases, just like people do not choose cancer.

There is much to be learned from the Greiling family’s story. We’ve come a long way in opening up about mental health. But so much remains to be done. We need more mental healthcare providers. (Mindy writes of a six-week wait for Jim to see a psychiatrist, more common here in Minnesota than uncommon.) We need more programs. More funding. More housing and treatment options. More training for law enforcement. More understanding and compassion. And support. We can pledge, as individuals, to educate ourselves about mental illness and then to take that knowledge and be that person who sends a card, listens, prepares a meal…for an individual/family in need of our ongoing care, compassion, understanding and support. A family like the Greilings.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota’s COVID-19 reality, as photographed in Rochester November 24, 2020

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A message posted along U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester, home of the world famous Mayo Clinic, reveals the current crisis in Minnesota’s healthcare system as COVID-19 rages. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, Monday, November 23, 2020.
Highway signage directs motorists to the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary’s Hospital.
In the distance, the downtown Rochester skyline, including the Mayo Clinic, as photographed from the entrance ramp onto U.S. Highway 14 west.

NOTE: I took the above photos while riding as a passenger in a vehicle, not while driving.

Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

COVID-19 stories from Minnesota November 18, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo taken in downtown Faribault, MN on May 15, 2020.

AT 6 PM TODAY, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is expected to announce more restrictions related to COVID-19 during an address to our state. With cases, hospitalizations and deaths exploding, additional measures seem wise and necessary. Minnesota recorded 67 COVID deaths today, a new record.

On Tuesday afternoon, the governor led a press conference that focused on stories, what he termed “the basic human part of what COVID is.” If you read my MN Prairie Roots post yesterday, you understand the value I place on stories. Last Friday I emailed the governor’s office and suggested stories as a way to personalize COVID. Whether my email helped shape the approach taken at yesterday’s briefing, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the powerful stories shared. I feel it’s important to pass along these stories, using notes I took during Tuesday’s press conference.

“IF WE DON’T ACT NOW…”

Former State Representative Nick Zerwas from Elk River began the storytelling with his COVID experience, one which landed him in the hospital for five days. Only 39 years old but with an underlying heart defect, he required supplemental oxygen. “I was stunned that I was so overwhelmed and ill from this virus,” he said.

At times throughout the tele-conference, I heard Zerwas coughing and wondered if he would make it through the briefing.

Zerwas, a Republican, has done an about face on the virus, now advocating mask wearing and coming together to stop rampant community spread. He spoke candidly about his change in attitude, noting, though, that the virus situation (community spread) now is much different than this summer.

I’ve seen the same attitude changes recently in other Republican leaders who, just last week, became infected with COVID. It’s a welcome shift that I hope ripples to the public and ends the politics of COVID-19.

In his lengthy storytelling, followed by a media question, I found this statement by Zerwas to be particularly powerful: “The virus is here. If we don’t act now, God help us.”

IN THE ICU WITH HEART AND KIDNEY FAILURE

The second speaker, Sarah Winston, the mother of a 17-year-old daughter infected with COVID-19, spoke next. Hers is a story that needed to be told and to be heard by anyone who thinks they are “safe” from the ravages of the virus just because they are young and healthy.

Sarah described her daughter as a healthy student athlete who contracted COVID from an asymptomatic friend. Ella ended up in the hospital for 10 days with heart and kidney failure and more and deals now with inflammation of her heart.

This mother urged Minnesotans to stay home, to quarantine even if they test negative after exposure, to wear masks, to be safe, to be smart.

I was surprised to hear her say, though, that she wants sports to continue (for the mental health of young people).

“AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE”

Dr. Jon B. Cole, a doctor in Hennepin Healthcare emergency medicine, termed COVID-19 “an awful experience.” He spoke from both a personal and professional perspective. In March, when COVID was just breaking in this country, he canceled a trip to Florida with his wife and four children. Five days later, he developed the virus and was among the first in Minnesota to test positive for COVID. Cole emphasized how thankful he was for his decision to cancel the Florida trip.

On a professional level, he spoke of the “substantial number” of nurses and doctors now sick with the virus or in quarantine. He warned of a shortage in healthcare workers.

GRIEVING

“I don’t want anyone else to endure what my family has had to endure,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said after sharing the story of losing her brother to COVID-19 in March. She described her brother as “a Marine, tough as nails.” He cared for their father, who died in January. Not long after, he was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and then COVID.

Flanagan noted that she never got to say goodbye to her brother, that she hadn’t processed her grief. It wasn’t until October that her family buried his ashes. Grief threaded through her narrative. As did strength and a determination that her experiences will make a difference.

She emphasized that every life has value, no matter an individual’s age in obvious reference to many elderly in care centers who have died as a result of COVID.

Flanagan said it’s “killing” her not to have Thanksgiving with her mom, asking Minnesota families to do the same so the chairs around their holiday tables are full next year. She encouraged people to drop the “magical thinking” that one Thanksgiving dinner won’t count in stopping the spread of COVID. Those were hard words to hear.

“COVID will continue to spread as long as we allow it to,” she concluded, urging everyone to take care of themselves and each other.

SOME WORDS FROM THE GOVERNOR

When the press conference ended, the media asked questions, mostly of the governor. He noted there will be a pause in sports and other restrictions announced today.

He also expressed gratitude to those who shared their stories Tuesday afternoon. I am grateful, too, for those stories which, as the governor stated in his opening remarks, add the human element to this virus.

Walz offered one final observation: “This is as bad as it was in New York in the spring.” If only he was wrong.

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Take care, dear readers. Make good choices for yourself and others. Follow health and safety guidelines/mandates. Be safe. Be well.

NOTE: I welcome comments and sharing of stories. However, I moderate all comments and will not publish those which are inflammatory or which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My take-aways from a COVID-19 situation press conference in Minnesota November 17, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

STORIES. THEY MATTER. And, during a Monday afternoon press conference addressing COVID-19 in Minnesota, the powerful stories shared by Abbot Northwestern Hospital ICU nurse Kelly Anaas took this crisis down to a personal level.

I—we—needed to hear this. Stats, data and information, while important, can only go so far before we numb to the numbers. Stories translate into real people, real situations. They hit home.

As Anaas stood at the podium and talked of patients from Stacy, Brainerd, Bemidji waiting for hours for helicopters and/or ambulances to transfer them, of the ICU filling, of overwhelmed healthcare workers, I could see the stress on her face, the worry, the strong desire to convince Minnesotans to follow health and safety guidelines and take this virus seriously. If her plea doesn’t convince people, I don’t know what will.

“So, Minnesota, lawmakers, mask wearers and COVID deniers, I’m here today to say that you need to believe nurses when we tell you that these things are happening,” she said.

Just moments earlier Anaas dismissed the term frontline workers, instead shifting that to say, “Minnesota, we are your only line.”

One of her most memorable statements: “Please, Minnesota, stay home this Thanksgiving so you don’t have to ring in the new year with me.”

WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

Repeatedly throughout the news conference, our governor, public health officials and other healthcare workers (including another nurse and a doctor) called for Minnesotans to do their part, to work together, to be kind, to stay home, to mask up, to social distance, to limit their Thanksgiving celebration to their immediate household. That’s a change from just days ago when we were advised it was OK to gather with no more than 10 people from three households.

How quickly things evolve with this pandemic. Reported record high daily infections of nearly 9,000 with deaths breaking records also prompted Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm to term the numbers “terrifying.” And she warned the situation will worsen as the high infection rate translates to increasing hospitalizations and deaths in the upcoming weeks.

Mixed with that bad news, though, seemed a concerted effort by those speaking to set a positive tone. A pep fest, if you will, praising Minnesotans for their efforts thus far and inspiring them to work together as “One Minnesota” (Governor Tim Walz’ unifying theme). Walz also noted the light at the end of the tunnel in promising vaccines. But we’re not there yet. He repeatedly called upon Minnesotans to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT

In the midst of all the dire news, Dr. Cuong Pham of M Health Fairview delivered a light-hearted moment when he shared how he learned to cut his hair via YouTube. I appreciated the humor mixed into his observations of hospitals at near-capacity, his concern about “the little hospitals in greater Minnesota,” his worry, too, about patients with healthcare needs beyond COVID. Heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and other emergencies continue. He stressed wearing masks, with the added words “over your nose.” I appreciated that. Over, not under, your nose.

These are difficult days. There’s no questioning that. I’d like to believe that we as Minnesotans have the ability to live up to our Minnesota Nice moniker, to believe healthcare workers like Kelly Anaas who need us to listen, and, as the governor said, “fight the virus and not each other.”

NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments or those which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at COVID-19 in Minnesota & it’s bad November 13, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THE PAST WEEK HERE IN MINNESOTA has been a difficult one as daily COVID-19 cases rise right along with deaths. The numbers are staggering. A record 7,228 positives reported Thursday. A record 56 reported deaths on Wednesday. I feel like I’m almost numbing to the statistics, to the ever-growing cases and deaths, including five new deaths reported in my county of Rice on Wednesday, another on Thursday. Likewise the number of care centers and schools with infections numerous enough to make the Minnesota Department of Health outbreak list lengthens.

Nearly every day recently I’ve received an email or a text notifying me that someone I care about, or one of their loved ones, is infected with the virus. That includes two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. Both my mom and my father-in-law are back in quarantine after new cases of COVID in staffers at their care centers. Concern for my husband at his workplace is ongoing given the many mask-less customers and co-workers not masking properly. He can’t do his job from home; he’s an automotive machinist. We discuss his work situation often and his need to put his health and safety first.

Social distancing remains part of the safety protocol to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

This pandemic is out of control. You all know that. And it doesn’t need to be this way. I’ve long felt deep frustration over the failure of some many to follow basic health and safety guidelines like masking up (and that means wearing the mask correctly, covering mouth AND nose), keeping six feet or more away from others, washing/sanitizing hands, avoiding crowds, and staying home if you’re sick, have symptoms, have had contact with an infected person or are awaiting COVID test results. These are not difficult requirements to follow.

Posted on the door of a business in Northfield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

A friend recently offered this comparison to those who claim masks do no good:

If you were having surgery would you want the surgeon to wear a mask? We wear masks during the pandemic for the same reason surgeons wear masks in surgery, to prevent the spread of germs.

He’s right. I’ve used that same analogy. And this week the Centers for Disease Control stated that wearing masks not only protects others, but also ourselves. I’ve long thought that. Yet, too many still view mask mandates as political, as government intrusion, as anything but what they are, a way to protect all of us from COVID-19. This is science and health-based. But, for some reason, too many people in my community of Faribault continue to ignore the science and our state mask mandate. I see unmasked individuals (and those wearing them below their noses or around their necks only) in public all the time.

The #1 reason to mask up. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

I am thankful that Minnesota’s governor this week added restrictions to help stop the spread of COVID in my state. Those include closing bars and restaurants at 10 pm, banning bellying up to the bar and limiting games like darts and pool, capping funeral and wedding reception sizes, and asking us to limit private gatherings to 10 people from no more than three households. Already, people are whining and complaining. “What about Thanksgiving? And what about Christmas? And what about…?” (The Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner and Faribault Winterfest have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I’m so relieved organizers made those smart choices.)

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

Yet, politicians continue to fuel the fire of opposition to mandates by citing economic concerns and abuse of power. I understand the economic fall-out. I’ve lost income due to the pandemic. My daughter lost her job. My son-in-law lost his job. (They’re working now.) The hospitality industry, especially, is hurting. I get that. I acknowledge that. But the constant criticism of efforts to stop the spread of COVID makes zero sense. We are in this together. Together. Elected officials who continually attack public health mandates are hurting efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. I don’t understand why they don’t understand that this pandemic is, first and foremost, a public health issue that takes top priority.

Can you imagine being a healthcare worker right now (and I know some of you are)? Many are voicing their frustration over the failure of the public to grasp the severity of the pandemic, to follow basic preventative measures. Minnesota hospitals are filling. Our healthcare workers are getting sick.

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

We all want life to return to normal. But in between now and a vaccine, we must each adhere to health and safety guidelines. When we don’t, we risk our own health and the health of others. I, for one, don’t need more emails and texts telling me of loved ones or others infected with COVID.

And I don’t want to read more disheartening headlines like these published in my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, this week:

COVID-19 outbreak at care center swells to 74 staff, residents

COVID surge drives Faribault district to distance learning

With COVID cases on the rise, City Hall to shut its doors

We each have a responsibility to try our best to stop the spread of COVID by following health and safety protocols. Thank you to those who are doing just that.

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Note: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments, including those which spread misinformation and false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that “stupid mask…” October 26, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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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