- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 28

We all play a role in stopping the spread

The rush to place blame is natural in a crisis.

Depending on the source, the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating human and economic consequences are the fault of the Chinese, the Trump administration, impeachment-obsessed Democrats, governors who either moved too quickly or too slowly to shut down their states, and profit-hungry corporations that failed to protect employees or refused to quickly retool to produce needed health care products.

All of that must be sorted out in due time. But for now, as Minnesota and other states move to loosen restrictions on businesses and residents, looking back is less important than navigating what lies ahead. How well Americans adjust to the changed world - and how much responsibility they are willing to take for themselves and others - will be critical in determining how long this nightmare will last and how many lives will be lost.

Yes, widespread testing and tracing are key. Yes, health care systems must have adequate equipment and other resources. Yet even when those needs are met, the best way to stop the virus will be to limit transmission.

During a recent trip to a Menards store in St. Paul, an Editorial Board observer saw how the behavior of workers and shoppers showed the gulf between the goals and reality of a basic recommendation called for in all back-to-business plans: social distancing.

To its credit, Menards had put a number of new procedures in place. All employees were wearing masks. An employee stationed at the door directed shoppers to “returns or purchases.” A plexiglass partition had been installed at the return counter.

To better control the traffic flow, aisles closest to the checkout area were blocked on one end with a snow fence so that those who wanted to pay could be funneled to the widest aisle, where a worker directed shoppers to specific lines. Employees all appeared to be keeping a minimum of six feet apart.

So how about the customers?

The parking lot was packed, most shoppers were not wearing masks, and most seemed oblivious to social distancing recommendations as they leisurely strolled through the store, often in proximity to other customers. And because of the way the store’s main checkouts are designed, plexiglass is not an option and customers can’t maintain more than a couple of feet of separation from employees.

The observer also visited a St. Paul Lunds and Byerlys store, where plexiglass has been installed at the checkouts and customers were directed to stay apart at the deli and while waiting to pay for their groceries. Again, however, shoppers often crowded too close to others as they searched for items in the aisles. And few wore masks.

Their apparent confidence, or remarkable lack of awareness, is disturbing. There’s still much that health care experts don’t understand about the spread of coronavirus, but the great majority agree on the need for social distancing and - after mixed signals early on - most also recommend wearing a face covering in public.

The retailers and other businesses that are allowed to operate now in Minnesota are adjusting on the fly to a dangerous and easily transmitted contagion. At least until a vaccine and effective treatments are readily available, all of us need to wake up and do our part to stop the spread.


The Free Press of Mankato, April 28

COVID-19: Walz must create timeline on re-open

Why it matters: As the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more clear in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz and his team must begin to set realistic and specific timelines for re-opening Minnesota.

As Vice President Mike Pence toured the Minnesota “moonshot” COVID-19 testing program at Mayo Clinic Tuesday, many Minnesotans wondered when the rocket ship was going to launch.

The private-public partnership with Mayo, the University of Minnesota, state health department and health care providers unveiled with great fanfare last week, which was predicted to ramp up testing to 20,000 a day, has been slow to materialize.

In fairness, officials said establishing the testing and research infrastructure, the first of its kind anywhere, would take anywhere from two to four weeks. But Minnesotans heard from health commissioner Jan Malcolm Monday that testing was still facing “logistical” problems as the state and providers conducted only 2,400 tests, a tenth of the ultimate goal.

Walz and his team have also predicted Minnesota would have 5,000 tests by the time the stay-at-home order expires on May 4. That may still be a tall order given the “logistics.”

That stay-at-home order is becoming the tie that binds on the whole coronavirus train. Minnesotans are getting impatient and in some cases mentally stressed. One measure of the willingness of Minnesotans to stay home has been bending. Traffic counts across the state have recently risen. Traffic had been reduced by about 68% up until two weeks ago, but now is around 28% reduced. Clearly, more Minnesotans are getting cabin fever and getting out more.

Walz has hinted he will likely modify the stay-at-home order in his decision this week. Minnesota is not likely to follow the likes of Georgia, going full throttle to open up their economies. Nor should we.

But the earlier, less restrictive stay-at-home model should now be strongly considered, if only because we have achieved what Walz said we needed to achieve: giving hospitals time to gear up to handle a flood of cases.

The capacity of ICU beds has been at 75% capacity for weeks, and ICU COVID cases have been hovering near 100 daily occupancy, according to the state’s numbers. If ICU beds that can be added in 24 hours are added to the mix, we’re only using 45% of ICU capacity.

We’re currently using only 40% of the ventilators available, and ventilator use has remained constant for two weeks at 554.

Granted, the risk comes with a skyrocketing number of cases and hospitalizations, but those would have to nearly double to pose capacity risks.

Walz and his team have developed a reasonable approach to the circumstances for when people can go back to church or when they can have smaller family gatherings. Large gatherings like Twins games would have to come much later when cases have been isolated and testing is at a maximum.

We haven’t heard a good argument for delaying some of the lower level openings.

Minnesotans will respect timelines, and most are willing to accept new habits like social distancing and masks. But Minnesotans need a reasonable and specific timeline for re-opening these events, only if estimated.

This will create an orderly back-to-work, back-to-fun phase that will balance the physical health care risks against the economic need for some return to normalcy.


Minnesota Daily, April 26

It’s OK to mourn

During a time when everyone’s life has been altered, feelings of loss and grief are valid.

Since the spread of COVID-19, it seems like every email that arrives in a student’s already crowded inbox is another cancellation. Because of the persistence of the coronavirus, commencement ceremonies, study abroad trips and summer classes have been canceled by universities to better ensure the health and safety of students. That is an undeniably smart decision, but it does not mean that students shouldn’t grieve the loss of these important and exciting events.

Spring semester is at times stressful but also incredibly thrilling for graduating students. Years of hard work, late night cramming and hours at the library have finally paid off, and students get to celebrate their accomplishments with friends and family. Unfortunately, the emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 has turned this usually joyous time into one of frustration and sadness for students across the country.

Students have a right to mourn the loss of these monumental moments. At the beginning of this semester, no one could have imagined that ceremonies students have been looking forward to for years would be postponed or canceled, and this jarring change requires time for grief. It is not easy for students to stay positive when so much has been taken from them.

Graduating students are not the only ones who have felt this disappointment. Many students had plans to study abroad during spring semester or over the summer, and those trips have been canceled as well. Working study abroad programs into a student’s schedule can be difficult, and it is likely that some students will not have the opportunity to pursue these programs again.

It is important to acknowledge what all of these students have to sacrifice because of COVID-19 and to give them time to process these losses. Virtual commencement is not going to be the same as walking across the stage to receive a diploma you have worked hard for. Nothing can replace the experience of traveling and learning somewhere new. Losing these moments is hard to grapple with; a college career different than the one planned for can be an unexpected burden to bear.

During this trying time, it is incredibly difficult to remain positive, and that is fine. Feelings of sadness, depression and grief are valid and understandable. Do not shy away from these feelings, and seek professional help if you need it. The University of Minnesota offers several mental health resources through Boynton Health Center, including a crisis line that can be reached at 612-301-4673. Surround yourself with those you love, and take the time you need to mourn these events.

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