Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

Focus on mental health October 10, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

How well I remember those words printed on the back of her red, white and blue plaid shirt. Uppercase letters all in white.

Given the cultural event I was attending in September 2019, I surmised the message related to immigration issues. But when I asked, the young woman replied that the words referenced struggles with mental health. She battles depression and credited family support for her “doing well right now” status.

How are you? Are you doing well right now? Or are you struggling? You don’t have to answer that publicly. Just think about it.

Today marks World Mental Health Day. I won’t get into the intricacies of the day. Rather, I’d like each of you to think about mental health. Those two words often carry a negative connotation. But they shouldn’t. We all have mental health.

The past months, especially, have been hard on our mental health. We’ve lost so much. Our normalcy. Contacts and connections with family and friends. Toss in financial, health and other worries related to COVID-19, and it can be a lot.

A close-up of the hand on a sculpture, “Waist Deep,” outside the Northfield Public Library. The sculpture addresses the topic of mental health. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

But here’s one thing we need to remember—we are not alone. Not you. Not me. Not that young woman in the plaid shirt. She had her family. Such support can be powerful. As can peer and professional (therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists) support. And support groups like those offered through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Medication, too, can prove invaluable in maintaining and/or restoring good mental health. Prayer and exercise and time outdoors and much more, including the support of friends, help. (Just note that any threat of suicide needs to be taken seriously and requires immediate professional care.)

“Waist Deep.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

If there’s one thing that bugs me, really bugs me, it’s the use of words like “crazy” and “not all there” and other such words and phrases that demean individuals struggling with their mental health. They are not to blame for a disease affecting their brains. We don’t, for example, blame people with cancer for their disease. Why is it any different for someone diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bi-polar, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD…? We need to reframe our thinking, to think with compassion and kindness and understanding rather than with an attitude of, well, why can’t you just get yourself out of bed or stop being so negative or whatever you want to insert here.

You can only imagine how I felt earlier this year (pre COVID-19) when I stopped at a brewery in rural southwestern Minnesota and spotted a man wearing a shirt with a straightjacket image on the back and the name of a nearby brewery printed below. The business graphic and name offended me. Once home, I checked out the brewery website only to find beer names like Hopzophrenia and Citra Insane-O. Really? I find such branding insensitive. One could argue that I don’t have a sense of humor, I suppose. I would respond right back, where is the humor in this?

A sign explains the story behind the “Waist Deep” sculpture. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

Yeah, I’m on a bit of a soapbox here. But, you know, the struggle is real. And the struggle stretches to societal attitudes, to the shortage of mental healthcare professionals, to stigma and discrimination and lack of support for individuals and their families in the throes of mental health challenges.

The wait here in rural Minnesota to see a psychiatrist can stretch into months. Months. That’s unacceptable.

There’s no easy answer to all these issues related to mental health. But we can start with education, discussion and increased awareness, like today’s World Mental Health Day. We can also, as individuals, grow our understanding and compassion. Reach out to a friend or family member who needs our support. Listen. Care. And, mostly, believe that THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The reality of COVID-19 October 9, 2020

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A portrait I took of my mom during my last in-person visit with her in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I EXPECTED THIS. Yet, the news that an employee in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center has tested positive for COVID-19 hit me hard. I felt my heart race, my blood pressure rise, my worry spike when my daughter alerted me to this development Wednesday afternoon. It took awhile for me to process this and what this might mean.

I’m more settled now with the passage of time and answers from the care center administrator who advised, in a Facebook post, to email her with any concerns or questions. She was prompt and thorough in her reply to my inquiry and for that I am grateful. I feel better if I am informed, rather than guessing or wondering.

I photographed my mom’s hands during that last in-person visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Time and testing will tell if Mom has been exposed to the virus. I am confident the care center is doing the best it can to protect staff and residents. But I also recognize that the best, when it comes to this potentially deadly virus, may not be enough. I am preparing myself mentally.

Simultaneously, my father-in-law is now in in-room quarantine after a resident of his wing in a central Minnesota care center tested positive for COVID.

And our second daughter, who works as a letter carrier in Madison, Wisconsin, texted Wednesday evening that an individual in her office tested positive for the virus. She was not surprised. She has shared often that masking up is about the only safety measure being taken to protect her and other postal employees. Thankfully she was not told she needed to quarantine, meaning she was not exposed to the infected co-worker.

All of this, as you would guess, is stressing me. These cases are getting way too close to people I love.

To those of you in similar situations or who have lost loved ones to COVID, my heart breaks for you. This is hard, just plain hard.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I especially appreciated, as part of her Facebook post, the administrator at my mom’s care center adding this:

“We have kept a close eye on the increase in cases within our county; however, we can only do so much. To help continue to keep our residents safe and allow them to live without all of these restrictions, we ask that our community members please take this virus seriously. Please mask if you are able and social distance from others.”

That’s prudent advice no matter where you live. No place is immune. I continue to see way too many people not wearing masks or wearing them under their noses (which does no good). I hear stories from my husband about co-workers and customers exhibiting the same careless behavior. This frustrates me to no end. Why don’t people care? I just do not understand.

COVID-19 kills. In Minnesota, most of those who have lost their lives lived in long-term congregate care centers or assisted living facilities. I’ve heard nonchalant comments like, “Oh, they are old, they were going to die anyway.” As if that’s OK. It’s not. Sure, my mom has major health issues that could end her life any day. But her life still has value. And I’d rather she didn’t die of COVID-19.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“It’s in your hands” September 25, 2020

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I photographed this sign on the door of a business in Crosby, where shops I visited followed through on masking requirements.

 

Lake COUNTRY Cares.

That sub message underscores the main point to mask up while patronizing businesses in central Minnesota’s lakes region. So those businesses can stay open.

I appreciate the message and the buffalo plaid Paul Bunyan themed art iconic to this region. The serious, yet visually humorous, sign, duplicated and posted on many shops, reminds us all that we can help stop the spread of COVID-19 by masking up.

If only every business posting that sign or a similar “masks are required” sign would follow the rules. Words are meaningless when actions do not match. And I found that to be the case in some (more than I expected) shops in Nisswa and Crosslake during a recent stay at a family lake cabin in the area.

My frustration level grew to the point that, if I walked into a shop where the owner/employee was not masked or even one customer was not masked (wearing a mask below one’s nose or around one’s neck or wearing only a partial plastic shield is not “wearing a mask”), I walked out. Right out the door. This failure to mask up shows no care. No care for people. No care for keeping businesses open.

 

I love this message and the welcoming and caring shopkeeper with whom I spoke.

 

In all fairness, I walked into plenty of shops where the owners clearly care. Masks were available to customers. Hand sanitizer or wipes were front and center with notices to use upon entering the business. I especially appreciated the cleaning station and creative signage in a Crosslake framing and gift shop that stated: IT’S IN YOUR HANDS.

Yes, it is. It’s up to each of us to do our part to keep each other safe. This is about health and science and respect and compassion for one another. Not about politics and whatever other arguments can be tossed into the mix.

This failure to follow our state mask mandate is not unique to the central Minnesota lakes region, although, from my observations during my visit, it seems more problematic there. Here in the Faribault area I still see occasional half-maskers and no-maskers. Without divulging specifics, I will also add that not all employers are providing a safe work environment for employees or customers by their failure to comply with Minnesota’s mask mandate and other health recommendations.

So, yeah, I’m frustrated. Even angry at times. I recognize that even the best preventative measures can still fail, but we have to try.

 

A sign posted in Mission Park south of Crosslake from an event canceled earlier this year due to COVID-19.

 

Just like many of you, I’m weary of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed on my life. But I keep reminding myself that I, we, can get through this, if only we do our part. Mask up. Social distance. Keep our hands clean. Avoid crowds and sizeable gatherings. Limit our circle. Make smart/good decisions that protect ourselves and others. Stay home when we’re sick. Get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms suggest that. It’s not that difficult. Really.

 

© 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