Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.”

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© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling