Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Briana, more than a statistic April 28, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

SHE DIED ON FRIDAY due to complications from COVID-19. And she was 30. Only 30.

I didn’t know Briana, who graduated from Faribault High School in 2009. But that matters not. Here’s a young life lost to a deadly virus, Briana’s name now on the ever-lengthening list of 7,091 (as of Tuesday) Minnesotans who have died from COVID or complications thereof.

Briana’s obituary, published April 27, 2021 in The Faribault Daily News.

My heart hurts for Briana’s family and friends. Her obituary and the comments therein, describe a vibrant and artsy young woman who enjoyed photography, crafts, sewing and music. She was also tagged as a passionate activist.

Briana’s friend Corrina writes: Briana was the most fieriest, artistic, and admirable person I knew. She inspired me to protest and we walked together through the streets fighting for justice. She made the world a better place.

She made the world a better place. I think we would all like to be remembered in that way.

It’s so important to remember that behind every COVID-19 death statistic is a person. An individual who loved and was loved. Who perhaps, like Briana, marched with fiery passion. Or quietly helped others via kindness, generosity and compassion. Or still had their whole life ahead of them. Like the first grader from Park Side Elementary School in Marshall who died on Sunday due to complications from COVID-19. A child with no underlying health conditions. My heart breaks. My cousin’s daughter teaches at Park Side. Marshall sits in Lyon County, in the southwestern corner of the state, in a region with one of Minnesota’s highest COVID infection rates.

As I watch and read media coverage of the COVID situation in India, my heart also breaks at the overwhelming number of new cases—some 350,000 in a single day—and the resulting deaths. It’s difficult to see film of people suffering, of bodies wrapped in blankets and lying in the streets, of oxygen masks clamped onto faces and hear the pleas for oxygen, medicine, PPE. Pleas, too, for vaccines.

An article published in the April 27 edition of The Faribault Daily News highlights how the virus continues to spread in my region of Minnesota. I see more and more people in public without face masks or half-masking. Tuesday stats from the Minnesota Department of Health list 12 new deaths, including one from my county of Rice. That individual was between the ages of 55-59. That makes 104 COVID-19 deaths now in my county

I feel thankful that the US and other countries are offering help to the people of India in this overwhelming health crisis. Yet, I can’t help but think how people in the US are turning down vaccines, not wearing face masks, living like there’s no pandemic…

Monday evening I watched “The Virus That Shook the World,” a two-part FRONTLINE public television documentary featuring people from around the world in the first year of COVID-19. A doctor. Filmmakers. Dancers. It was heart-wrenching to listen, to watch. But necessary to document. Important to view. I felt my grief building as the film progressed. And then, when a daughter in Iceland shared the story of her mother’s death from COVID, all the grief and pain I’ve felt during the past year-plus erupted. I couldn’t stop crying as I observed this family’s loss and pain. I felt like I was crying the grief of the world. Crying for Briana and her family. Crying for the family of that first grader and the entire community of Marshall. Crying for those in my circle who have lost loved ones (seven thus far) to COVID.

In all this grief and suffering and pain and death, I hold onto hope. Hope that we can overcome. Hope that we can heal. Hope that we can set aside politics and misinformation and me-attitudes to do what is right. To care about others and to act like we care. To understand the importance of health and science in defeating this virus. To cry tears of joy rather than tears of unending grief.

© 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

 

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

 

How faith families are adapting, connecting, reaching out… March 22, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON A TYPICAL SUNDAY MORNING, I would be awake by 6:45 am, showering, grabbing breakfast, preparing to leave for 8 am church services.

This morning I awoke a half hour later, followed the regular Sunday morning routine, then sat down at my computer to watch live-streaming of the Trinity Lutheran, Faribault, church service. I expect many of you did the same—utilizing technology for worship.

 

The original microphone used in 1948 for Trinity’s radio broadcasts on KDHL radio, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Trinity has had a video ministry for years. And a radio ministry for more than seventy. I am thankful those outreach ministries were already in place, making it much easier to connect with people during this global pandemic.

Difficult times call for us to be creative and to adapt. Our family ministry leader also brought Sunday School to our kids in a YouTube video. Click here to view that.

 

From the Trinity, Faribault, Facebook page.

 

During the past week, I’ve worked, from my home, with a team that’s expanding Trinity’s ministry via social media. Daily uplifting and encouraging scripture has been added to our Facebook page. And our pastor is penning daily devotionals, which I am editing and proofing. I’m happy to use my talents to help.

At Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company where I am the paid blog coordinator and a blogger, we’ve launched a weekly series, “Scriptures of Hope,” to encourage and uplift people during this COVID-19 crisis. I encourage you to check out that first post by clicking here. Members of our Warner Press family selected bible verses that carry them through difficult times, sometimes adding their personal insights. We are committed to doing our part, through our blogging ministry, to bring hope.

I’d like to hear from you. How are your faith families connecting and continuing their ministries? Together we can learn from and support each other. Now, more than ever, we need to share our ideas and to connect.

FYI: Click here to reach the Trinity Radio and Video website to view today’s worship service and the Sunday School video (click on YouTube).

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The latest observations & developments on COVID-19 from my area of Minnesota March 15, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:04 PM
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Art from my files that seems to fit this story. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of random growth on a bridge.

 

IN A REVERSAL OF ROLES, the daughters are now concerned about their parents. Randy and me. Both daughters advised us not to attend services at our church this morning. They live in major metro areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The second daughter even texted a link to a news story about a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, church with three positive cases within the congregation.

“Is this an effort to convince the parents not to attend church?” I replied.

“Yes,” she answered. Services at our daughters’ churches have been canceled.

The Wisconsin daughter works as an independent healthcare contractor in close contact with patients. She views the current pandemic from an insider, as well as a personal, perspective. Her concern for her parents is certainly valid. But I worry about her, too, although plans are in place now to protect her and other professionals in her field.

It’s really difficult to know what to do, how much to limit your activities when you’re not in the highest risk population. But many in my Faribault congregation are and that is especially concerning as the coronavirus situation develops. Minnesota now has 35 confirmed cases, up from 14 on Saturday. Two of those newest cases are in rural areas—Renville County in southwestern Minnesota and Waseca County, right next to my county of Rice. And three have been linked to community transmission.

In a news conference today, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that all K-12 schools in Minnesota will close by Wednesday while “transitioning to a different way of delivering education.” That new plan of extended distance learning is expected to be in operation by the end of March. He’s ordered schools to close from March 18-27. Faribault public schools are closing already starting Monday.

But the information that really jumped out at me today was delivered by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. She “strongly encouraged” those 70 and older and those at risk due to underlying health conditions to isolate themselves and to reduce interaction with the public. Perhaps I missed this in previous news conferences or statements. But this is the first time I’ve heard something this specific targeted to a specific age demographic.

Following the declaration of a peace-time state of emergency in Minnesota on Friday, state officials recommended no gatherings of more than 250 people and social distancing of six feet for groups under that. That’s resulted in thousands of cancellations, including at some houses of worship.

Malcolm also told Minnesotans to stay home from work if they’re sick rather than follow the strong Minnesota work ethic of toughing it out (and going to work sick). Randy received a text from his employer this afternoon telling all employees to stay home if they are ill. More discussion follows tomorrow at this small business.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Everywhere I see the ripples of this pandemic. Yesterday, when I stopped at the local public library to stock up on reading materials, I found the facility nearly empty. On a typical Saturday, all computer terminals would be in use, kids would be playing in the children’s area and the place would be filled with patrons.

The grocery store, however, was packed with people stocking up. In addition to our usual Saturday meat counter purchases, we picked up a few extras—canned fruit (which I never eat), Ibuprofen and Gatorade (just in case we get sick). I looked again, even at the hardware store, for hand sanitizer, to no avail.

But I picked up tidbits of information from random people I don’t know. One, from Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school in Faribault with a sizable international population, shared how parents of students from China just want to get their kids home. As a mom whose adult son returned to Wisconsin last evening from an international conference in Florida with a layover in New York, I get it. I wanted him safely back in the Midwest.

An employee at the grocery store told me about his Waldorf College friend who is trying to get home to Barcelona, Spain. A friend worries about her pregnant daughter and family in Spain, now basically under lockdown. Many family and friends are canceling vacations and my church has canceled a March mission trip to Nicaragua.

Then there’s the dad I met at Walgreens who encouraged his daughter to go on a recent cruise and have fun. His attitude toward the whole pandemic seemed relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. But I recognize that everyone reacts differently.

None of us knows what will happen, how this pandemic will develop. I feel confident in our leadership here in Minnesota, that we are getting accurate information and good advice and that state officials are working hard to manage the growth of coronavirus. That eases my mind. Somewhat.

Today we attended services at our church, despite the daughters’ protests. We kept social distance during the service, didn’t touch the collection plate and used hand sanitizer. Maybe next week I will feel differently.

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JUST A NOTE: I feel it’s important to continue documenting what’s happening in my small corner of the world—what I am observing, what I am thinking, feeling and experiencing. It helps me to write about the situation. I want to hear from you, too, and deeply appreciate those of you who have already taken the time to add your thoughtful (and sometimes humorous) comments. We are experiencing something historic, something unprecedented and something that touches every single one of us. Be well, my friends.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The disappearing toilet paper & other COVID-19 updates from Minnesota March 13, 2020

We were running low on fruit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I PROMISED MY ELDEST daughter I would pick up hand sanitizer for her while on routine grocery and big box store runs Thursday evening. We were running low on bathroom cleaning supplies, fresh fruit, bread, milk and other items. This wasn’t a stockpiling outing due to COVID-19, just a regular shopping trip. And picking up sanitizer for her—because she lives in the Twin Cities metro and can’t find any there—would be no big deal. Or so I thought.

 

A look at the toilet paper aisle at Aldi in Faribault on Thursday evening.

 

But upon entering Aldi, my go-to grocer, I immediately realized this would be anything but a typical visit. For one thing, the place teemed with people, unusual for a Thursday evening. Then I started noticing the empty and emptying shelves. We’re talking everything from almonds to bread to no spinach. But it was the toilet paper aisle that caused me to pause and take a photo. The toilet paper shortage repeated itself at Walmart and then at Fareway Foods.

As Randy and I waited to check out our groceries (no hoarding by us and no hand sanitizer for the daughter), I commented to the clerk about the sold-out merchandise and the crowd. She informed me that Aldi expected to do $21,000 in sales that day, typical for what she termed a “slow day.” But when we checked out at 7 pm, that total had already reached $42,000. They were unprepared, she said, explaining the emptying shelves. An Aldi semi pulled into the parking lot while we loaded our purchases into the van and then headed for Walmart. The Aldi clerk warned us of long lines there.

But we needed cleaning supplies and I was still searching for the elusive hand sanitizer. At Walmart I grabbed a package of bar soap, not anti-bacterial, but found no hand sanitizer. Back in the cleaning supplies aisle, Randy experienced the same issue with no Lysol wipes and none of the brand of bath or toilet bowl cleaners I use. There were few choices on the nearly-cleared shelves. And good luck finding toilet paper.

For probably the first time ever, we left Walmart without buying anything. I didn’t need three bars of soap bad enough to wait in line. Not that the lines were horrendous, but long enough to cause us to exit empty-handed.

We had one last stop, at a smaller grocery store which has a meat counter we especially like. That presented one final opportunity to purchase hand sanitizer and the elusive cleaning supplies. But before I got to the cleaning aisle, I bumped into a friend who blames the Chinese and U.S. governments for getting us into this current pandemic. And then I met a woman who stood in disbelief before the empty toilet paper shelves. She wondered aloud about what she termed “media-driven hysteria” and lack of concern by the general public regarding the 18,000 (her number, not mine) deaths caused by influenza. I engaged in a brief conversation, quickly realizing that, if I didn’t want to get into an altercation in the toilet paper aisle, I best not continue talking to her.

In the end, I found the cleaning supplies I wanted at Fareway Foods, but no hand sanitizer. And I grabbed two containers of ice cream to add to the few items in our grocery cart. I wasn’t hoarding. The ice cream was on sale. And I like ice cream.

 

This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

UPDATES FROM MINNESOTA: Five more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Minnesota today, bringing the total number to 14 with two of those individuals hospitalized. One is “acutely-ill,” according to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm

The commissioner shared that information during a 1 pm news conference in which Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peace-time state of emergency. This declaration gives him the power to mandate community measures to protect health and safety if need be. Currently, Minnesota officials are recommending canceling gatherings of 250 people or more, social distancing of six feet, limiting visitors to senior care centers and many other strategies we’ve already heard implemented elsewhere. Both Walz and Malcolm stress that we are in this together and must do our part to keep each other safe. Walz called the community level strategies “science based” and “societal measures.”

In my community, at least one school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school with students from around the world, is transitioning to distance learning, according to an article in the Faribault Daily News. At this point, state officials are not recommending school closures. But, as the governor stated, decisions related to the Coronavirus are “evolving decisions.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

So what do we do? Stay calm. Prepare, within reason. Recognize the vulnerability of older people and those with underlying health conditions. Follow the guidelines for gatherings and social distancing. Wash our hands. Cover our coughs. Stay home if we’re not feeling well. And, plain and simple, use common sense.

And if it helps, eat ice cream.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling