Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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