Colleges

SHAC sees success with transition to telehealth

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 10:01am

Like many campus offices, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) has faced a difficult reality this spring amid the collective transition online. For SHAC, in-person appointments and services are no longer an option. With its on-campus clinic closed for the term, SHAC has leveraged telehealth tools to continue to offer the majority of its standard services remotely.

Marit Lysne, director of SHAC, said that the clinic’s transition to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has largely been successful. “This is a challenging situation for everyone, which is why it was so important to SHAC and to the college that we continue to provide these services to students even though they had to leave the state,” she explained. “We’ve been able to do that.”

According to Lysne, SHAC continues to offer medical, psychiatric and counseling care, with appointments conducted via video call. Medication management services are available through SHAC’s psychiatric consultant, and the 24/7/365 phone line for mental health emergencies remains in operation. SHAC’s two meditation offerings—”Time to Meditate” and KORU—shifted online this term.

The clinic is not offering its typical group therapy programs this spring, Lysne said, apart from a group co-facilitated with the Gender and Sexuality Center with a focus on LGBTQ issues. SHAC usually runs two or three group therapy programs per term.

Lysne said that student utilization of counseling and psychiatry services has generally been consistent with what SHAC sees during a normal term. Use of medical services has decreased somewhat, Lysne reported, but she believes this is due to students opting to seek care in their local communities for acute issues like an illness or rash. 

Students are continuing to schedule appointments with SHAC to address more private medical issues, such as conversations about birth control, Lysne added. The clinic is also using secure messaging to answer students’ medical questions and direct them to care in their local communities.

All of SHAC’s full-time staff members, as well as two graduate student practicum counselors, are working as usual this spring, Lysne reported. These clinicians went through training during Spring Break to prepare for telehealth care. SHAC’s temporary staff members—who work on a part-time basis during periods of highest demand—are not working at the clinic this term.

Flipping SHAC’s entire model of care on short notice was a work-intensive effort, Lysne said, but she is pleased with the results. “Most students that we’re working with are saying this feels very similar,” she added.

Angela Yackel, a nurse practitioner at SHAC, spoke to the process of adapting to telehealth, which she said has been positive overall. “I miss my in-person visits with students, but have felt really fortunate to be able to continue to connect with students via telehealth services,” said Yackel. “The visits I’ve had have gone really smoothly and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of care I’m able to provide this way.” 

Lysne said that the switch to telehealth may even be an advantage for some students who find it more convenient or manageable to seek care from home rather than coming into the clinic. Thinking beyond SHAC’s services, the rise of telehealth during the pandemic is an asset to students in rural areas, she added. These students can now access care remotely that might otherwise be a few hours’ drive away.

At the same time, telehealth has come with several extra challenges for SHAC. One of those is state licensure regulations, which place limits on the care that providers can offer to out-of-state clients. Under normal circumstances, SHAC clinicians—all of whom are licensed by Minnesota boards—do not face this issue, since students are residing on Carleton’s campus. With students now spread out geographically, SHAC has had to adapt, Lysne said—but the regulations have not prevented students from accessing care.

In light of the pandemic, many states have adopted temporary policies to reduce barriers for care across state lines. For some states, this might mean that an out-of-state clinician can provide care for a period of 90 days, Lysne said. Others are asking providers to submit an application for approval before they can serve students residing there. 

“No matter where a student is, we have that initial appointment with them,” she explained. “Everybody gets to be seen. What we do then is we assess where they are, how they’re doing, risk levels, what their needs are, what they’re looking for.”

If the student is interested in long-term care, SHAC examines the licensing regulations by consulting online guides and information from state boards. So far, licensure “hasn’t proved to be a big hurdle,” according to Lysne, with most of the new state policies proving to be workable.

“If there were a challenge with it, what we would do is we would still offer initial care, and what we call bridging,” she explained. “We would help a student get in to find somebody in their local community, and we would make sure that we were continuing to provide them care until they were able to secure that.” 

SHAC has also adopted new security and confidentiality practices specific to telehealth. Before beginning appointments, students are asked to read a document explaining the new protocols.

The precautions include telling students to wear earbuds and asking them to show the clinician the room they are calling from, to ensure that they are alone and able to speak freely and safely, Lysne said. SHAC also asks students for an emergency contact number to help the clinic respond appropriately if a student experiences a crisis situation.

According to Lysne, SHAC therapists are “processing with a lot of students the frustration and challenges that come with remote learning,” as well as the new realities of quarantine. These issues include stress, loneliness and disconnection, which may put some students at increased risk of depression. Conversations have also focused on familial dynamics and environmental changes for students who have moved back home, Lysne added.

In addition to offering its standard services, SHAC is also involved in the College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lysne said she encourages students both on- and off-campus to fill out a Community Concern Form (CCF) if they have developed COVID-19 symptoms, are awaiting a test result or have tested positive. 

Filling out a CCF—or contacting SHAC directly—would prompt a support response from several offices, including SHAC, according to Lysne. Clinicians would provide advice on seeking care, isolating and monitoring symptoms. 

Carleton has not reported any cases of COVID-19 among students residing on campus.

SHAC is also involved with several campus committees doing work related to the pandemic, Lysne said, including the Infectious Disease Team, which is focused on long-term planning and response.

Lysne wants students to know that SHAC is here for them even remotely. “We want to be of service, and across the board all of our services are available, so please, utilize us,” she said.

The post SHAC sees success with transition to telehealth appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

A look back at 100 years of Carleton student representation

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 9:56am

This year’s CSA elections revealed a decline in student involvement. According to the 2020 CSA Executive Report, voter turnout has been steadily decreasing since 2017, from 67% then to only 49% of students participating in the winter 2020 elections. During this spring’s CSA Senate elections, nine of twelve positions went uncontested, and the vote drew a mere 21% of Carleton voters. 

To mark the 100th anniversary of student representation at Carleton, we looked deep into the Carletonian archives and found that representatives have long been frustrated with student apathy. The “major difficulty in establishing a meaningful student government,” wrote CSA presidential candidate Mick Parrott ’62, “is the lack of an interested and informed student body.” Since 1920, Carleton students have been complaining about their government system and working to perfect it—or, at least, writing scathing Carletonian op-eds about it. 

Students created the Alma Mater Association (AMA) in 1920 to foster a “proper predominating college spirit,” according to the Carletonian, and to unite Carleton students into a single organized voice that could have authority over social events and other matters they considered outside of administrative purview.  

Elected members of the original AMA included a President, one male and one female Vice President, and two cheerleaders—usually men, in charge of invigorating crowds at sporting events and pep rallies. Their responsibilities were primarily social, including the “promotion of sportsmanship at college games, prevention of indiscriminate hazing of freshmen, definition of proper college spirit at college parties, and entertainment of visitors at all college entertainments,” founding member John Wingate ’21 stated at the meeting that launched AMA.  

Within a decade, students, complaining of the AMA’s failure “to arouse the interest of the students” and to “bring forth a representative expression of the student body,” abolished the association in favor of an organization with stronger executive power and a greater focus on discussing and resolving the issues that mattered most to students. In the fall of 1931, the first Carleton Student Association (CSA) convened, whose basic constitution and representative format we follow today. Broadly, CSA refers to the collective student body; CSA Senate members are its elected representatives. As describe on the current CSA website: “As an enrolled Carleton student, you are automatically a member of CSA.”

The original CSA constitution stated that its purpose was “to provide means for student discussion of any subject which pertains to student life at Carleton, and to provide the machinery to carry on the necessary activities of the student body.” Amendments had to be introduced at a “regular meeting of the association” and published in two issues of the Carletonian before they were voted upon.

Today, the CSA Senate has 25 positions, including office liaisons and class representatives—but at its founding, students could only run for President, Vice President, and Treasurer. Typically, at least two students ran for CSA President, but those aiming for Treasurer or Vice President often ran unopposed.  

Kirbyjon Caldwell ’75, candidate for CSA Vice President, kept his Carletonian platform brief: “Since I am running unopposed for CSA Vice President and there is a slight paper shortage, I see little reason for presenting a platform at this time. Take care of yourselves.”  

This pithy column was not the only amusing part of Carleton elections that decade. According to the Carleton website, when all ballots were counted in 1977, Joe Fabeetz—an imaginary candidate—had won the CSA Senate election with 1,012 write-in votes. 

In the early years, CSA positions were almost exclusively held by men. The first female president, Corinne Leino ’26, was elected to the AMA in 1925, but only a handful of women followed in her footsteps and pursued positions other than secretary. In 1967, that all changed when the first elections were held for the Dorm Senate, a system of representatives based on residence halls, which at the time were separated by gender. That meant there were designated spots in the Senate for women to speak on behalf of their East-side dorm communities.

Student apathy has been an issue over the course of the 100-year history of representation at Carleton, as evidenced by this assessment of the 1970 crop of Senate candidates as “the most lackluster group.” / Source: Carleton Archives.

Throughout CSA’s early years, its authority was undermined by the Men’s and Women’s Leagues, which held sway over many aspects of social life at Carleton and had a greater presence in students’ daily lives than CSA. In 1941, CSA faced termination when some students felt that their governing system was ineffective in the shadow of the more popular Leagues. Herbert Lefler ’42 attributed CSA’s shortcomings to the “apathy of the student body.” He wrote in his presidential campaign letter that “there are reasons for this apathy and that once the disease is cured, the basic ills of our student government will likewise be cured.”

Students nearly moved to dissolve the organization and rely solely on the Leagues to represent their voices. Instead, CSA was saved when they amended 13 articles of its constitution, which incorporated the Men’s and Women’s League presidents into the Executive Council and redefined the duties of the Vice-President. 

After the “student government crisis” of 1941, CSA regained its footing. CSA President William Cheek ’39 introduced a mandatory “chapel meeting,” where students came to hear each candidate’s platform, ensuring that the CSA election was not just a popularity contest.  Running was almost a full-time job, that included canvassing, collecting dorm contacts, and hanging posters. 

“So you want to know what it’s like to campaign for student body president,” said candidate Ted Bergstrom ’62 to a Carletonian reporter. “Well,” he began, “it’s enjoyable, stimulating and doggone tiring. I’ve given up on sleep and studying almost entirely.” 

The times when students seemed to be most dialed into their own government was when it was mired in controversy, as it was through much of the 1970s. 

The most notable incident happened in 1972, when CSA President Dick Helde ’73 was accused of skewing the election in his favor by gaming the preferential voting system, bringing some of the same issues surrounding the rapidly unfolding Watergate scandal to Carleton. Helde’s opponents said that his campaign told voters to cast only one vote for him instead of ranking their choices, which he denied. 

Dick Helde’ 73 was at the center of a conflict that cast a shadow of mistrust on CSA for years. / Source: Carleton Archives

Many students petitioned for a recall of the vote, but as CSA president, the decision of whether to accept or reject the petition was ultimately in Helde’s hands. He did not recall the vote, but a precedent of mistrust was set for years to come. 

The Helde incident sparked a chain of student concerns surrounding the lack of availability and transparency of the Senate.

In 1989, a Carletonian article headlined “CSA Senate ignores student opinion” cited a Senate decision that barely passed (in a 10-8 vote), to allow for a student referendum on the institution of S/Cr/NC.  “Clearly the eight senators who voted not to allow a student body referendum were not representing our desire to express our opinion,” Seth Brown ’91 wrote.  

The same article criticized the Senate for choosing not to fund the feminist journal Breaking Ground even though “670 signatures supporting the journal were collected in one week.”

The Budget Committee, which guides Senate in allocating CSA funds, became further steeped in controversy when they declined to increase funding for another student organization: the Student Organization for Unity and Liberation (SOUL).  Due to a lack of communication between the two groups, SOUL signed a contract to bring a speaker to campus and were not allocated the additional money to cover a rise in speaker price. 

Michelle Coffey ’91 and Karen Crawford ’89, executive board members of SOUL, replied with a sharply worded Carletonian article that asked, “will the nature of the CSA’s relationship with its charter organizations be one of mutual cooperation and trust, or one of mutual fear and loathing?” 

Students attend a CSA committee meeting in 1995. / Source: Carleton Archives

CSA has had its fair share of struggles with constituent apathy during its 100-year history, as well as periods of high involvement. Today, all CSA platforms and elections are available online, but they remain dependent on a certain level of student engagement. As Alan Hall ’41 wrote in an opinion piece in the May 24, 1940 Carletonian, “there’s something even worse than biting the hand that feeds you; that is paying no attention to a hand which might feed you and then wondering why you starve. The CSA is such a hand.”

Current CSA President Andrew Farias ’21 said that the main thing students need to remember is that “we are all in the Carleton Student Association. Even if it may not seem like it, it’s something that we’re all involved in.” While voter turnout is a valuable gauge of student interest, he noted that filling out a ballot is not the only way to stay engaged. 

“Whether it’s sitting on CSA Senate, or attending a meeting, or reading the meeting minutes, or just liking a post on Facebook or Instagram,” Farias said, student involvement is essential to sustaining the presence of CSA in years to come.

The post A look back at 100 years of Carleton student representation appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

Supply chain breakdown and economic downturn hurt Northfield-area farmers

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 9:40am

COVID-19 has created a bleak economic outlook for Rice County farmers. The pandemic has paralyzed the global economy and disrupted critical supply chains, preventing farm products from seamlessly reaching consumers. Coming at the heel of a year when American farmers suffered from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the virus has prolonged a period of economic uncertainty for this key demographic. Farmers in Southeastern Minnesota are certainly feeling the pressure. 

 Earlier this month, future prices for commodities like corn and soybeans dropped by 13.5% and 6.8% respectively, according to the University of Illinois. This economic data affected the decisions farmers made during the planting season that recently came to a finish.

“It affected our decisions a little bit,” said David Estrem, a farmer in Nerstrand, Minnesota, who raises hogs and grows corn and soybeans. “We were more conscious of over planting due to the lower prices, and also because of just how difficult it is to borrow money in this economic climate.”

The national lockdown has shuttered restaurants, hotels, and schools across the United States, leaving farmers without key purchasers of their goods. 60% of domestically produced bacon, for example, is purchased by restaurants. 

For farming families like the Estrems, the closure of food services was already making life difficult. Then, even more bad news came in early April: decisions made by plant operators across the Midwest to shutdown their pork processing facilities due to positive COVID-19 tests among employees. 

Some pork processors, like the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, remained shutdown through May, while others continued to operate, albeit at a significantly lower production level due to social distancing measures. At full capacity, pork processing plants require workers to be in close proximity to one another, which prompted fears the plants could become hotbeds for virus transmission.

Suddenly, processing plants are no longer taking in as many hogs, either because they are closed or unable to keep up with supply while maintaining social distance. This has forced farmers to leave tens of thousands of their livestock on feedlots across America. 

Hogs can grow up to 375 pounds before plants’ machinery is no longer adequate to process them. When a hog grows above this threshold, it faces euthanasia, as it is no longer economically feasible to continue feeding hogs farmers know won’t be accepted to a processing plant. Farms can only afford to house so many hogs, and they are expensive to feed.

“It’s impacted us tremendously,” said Estrem, referring to the recent chaos surrounding pork processing. “We’re growing the hogs a lot heavier than we want.” 

Earlier this month, the Star Tribune reported 10,000 pigs were being euthanized each day in the state of Minnesota.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to not have to euthanize any hogs at this point,” said Estrem. Over the last month, the Estrems have sent their hogs to locker plants (small local processors who carve up ham or pork and sell it directly to individual customers).

Not every farmer has been able to use their connections like the Estrems. Locker plants, after all, are not always a viable option. According to Estrem, they are typically booked up to two months in advance. Now, they are operating overtime to help farmers who cannot get their hogs to market soon enough.

David Estrem’s farm in Nerstrand, Minnesota.

Along with these issues comes a massive amount of food waste. According to The New York Times, many farmers are donating some of their surplus commodities to food banks, but there is only so much perishable food that can be refrigerated in these limited spaces.

“People are going hungry for no reason,” Estrem says. The disruption in the supply chain frustrates him not only because it has put his own economic interests in jeopardy, but because as a farmer he boasts: “We take pride in feeding America.”

The prospects for dairy farmers are grim as well. Bob Duban, a Denison farmer who produces dairy, said his family hasn’t dumped any milk — but he worries about what might come next. Prior to the pandemic, the dairy market was nearing saturation, with dairy farmers already exiting the market to begin with.

“The low dairy prices now make it tough for farmers to pay their land rent,” noted Duban. The prices Duban is getting for milk are about nine dollars under the cost of production per one hundred pounds, he noted.  “Dairy has been affected with low prices for the past three years now, but especially with COVID-19, many farmers have been forced to eliminate a fourth of their production, while some people have culled 25% of their herds just to cut back.”

Dairy Farmers of America, the country’s largest dairy cooperative, estimated in April that farmers are dumping as much as 3.7 million gallons of milk a day. Cows need to be milked multiple times per day, whether there are buyers in line or not.

As far as Duban recalls, he has not experienced an episode so ravaging to American agriculture since the economic recession of the early 1980s, “when the product values were down, the interest rates were so tremendously high and the banks were foreclosing on people.”

The pandemic has not directly affected the Duban’s planting decisions, but it has for neighboring farmers. “Normally they would be planting half corn and half soybeans, but a lot of them are planting more beans now,” Duban said. “Not necessarily because they will sell better, but because soybeans don’t have fertilizer costs.” Minnesota is the third largest exporter of soybeans and the fourth-largest exporter of corn in the United States.

Since the pandemic has kept Americans at home with their automobiles off the roads, domestic demand for ethanol, a key component of fuel-efficient gasoline, has plummeted. According to the Minnesota Corn Grower’s Association, the majority of the corn farmers sold last year (34.5%) went to ethanol producers. If stay-at home orders are reintroduced this summer, farmers could really begin to feel the economic repercussions. 

To provide farmers with some aid, the Trump administration initiated a $19 billion dollar package to benefit farmers impacted by the pandemic. Of that total, three billion is slated to go towards a mass government purchase of dairy, while the other $16 billion will be directly distributed to farmers in need. But, as David Estrem put it: “These payments are only a band-aid.”

At the time of their interviews, the federal government was yet to directly provide the Estrems or the Duban family with any economic assistance. The last time they received payment from the government was when the Trump Administration rolled out a relief package for farmers impacted by tariffs from the trade war with China. 

At the state level, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed a bill into action on May 19 preventing farm foreclosures until December 1. This legislation will extend the deadline of the Farmer-Lender Mediation Act, which stipulates that any creditor foreclosing on agricultural debt of $15,000 or more has to provide legal notice of their right to a neutral state mediator. 

The aim is to provide a level of stability for farmers severely impacted by the pandemic, who normally only have 90 days to reach an agreement with their creditors.

Denis Espinoza, a retired hay producer in Northfield with many contacts in agriculture, believes that the government still has a long way to go in providing help.

“They should be able to control the prices, see who is making the money in this situation, and address why it’s not getting to the farmer, because the farmers are the ones who need prices to get better on their end, so they can keep producing,” said Espinoza. 

Although economic conditions for local farmers are contingent on the events which will unfold in the next couple months, much of the damage has already been done. The next step will likely include further cooperation from the government through either stimulus payments or the granting of increased flexibility to farmers making payments on loans and rent. 

In the long run, farmers may need to rethink their distribution and production methods if another wave of the virus emerges or pandemics similar to COVID-19 become more common down the road.

“There’s a lot of farmers going out of business, and it’s going to be a long recovery,” said Espinoza. “It’s not going to be easy.”

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Categories: Colleges

Local uncharted waters report feeling overshadowed

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 9:25am

LOCATION UNKNOWN— A local river, which has never been explored by a single soul, reported Sunday feeling “overshadowed.” 

The river has existed since before even the first humans, but nobody has ever dipped a toe into its temperate waves, let alone included it on a single map. It lies some 50 miles from the nearest town, which seems like it would be close enough that someone would have stumbled upon it at some point. But in fact, the river has never been traversed. Though likely glimpsed by passersby, nobody, in all of human history, has ever been curious about what its waters belie. 

“I don’t know, I just, being uncharted was kind of my thing,” said the uncharted waters. “It’s literally my whole name, because since no one’s ever discovered me, they never named me. I am uncharted waters. You hear me? That’s who I am, and I’m proud of it.”

“This coronavirus pandemic is changing the world, yeah, I get it,” continued the uncharted waters. “But would it kill people to speak a little more precisely? Must they use such metaphorical language? ‘Uncharted waters,’ really? I mean, they’re not living in the water. The virus is spreading among people on land. Do people not realize that? I am uncharted waters. If the whole world, everyone’s entire collective existence, becomes ‘uncharted waters,’ then what am I? Just some fucking creek?”

The uncharted waters seemed as if to look inward, equal parts morose and afraid. 

The uncharted waters noted that they take less issue with the phrasing itself than with its ubiquity. “What really gets me isn’t that they’re using the phrase. Pre-pandemic, it has always been something of a ‘saying.’ I get that. But every day? I mean, literally, every few minutes, someone somewhere remarks contemplatively upon the ‘uncharted waters’ their family, or their corporation, or their youth softball league is navigating. I’m not even kidding, the other day, two dudes walked right by me, and I heard one of them saying to the other: ‘These are uncharted waters, Jeffrey.’ I was like—helloooo, I’m RIGHT HERE!” 

The uncharted waters grew visibly upset, and then shook their head and sat up straight, seeming to rein in their emotions. 

“I don’t even care,” said the uncharted waters with a scoff. “I just think it’s kind of ironic, is all.” 

At press time, nearby uncharted territory reported similar feelings.

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Categories: Colleges

Books in quarantine

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 9:19am

They’re like pacifiers. Though it’s more involved than that; bad comparison. Something distracting and thought-provoking enough to avoid ennui,insulated enough to quell anxiety, and hopefully original enough to battle against the cliché that seems to be permeating this pandemic. More or less.

Context: Online learning has been one of my most stressful, anxiety-inducing experiences of the past year. It has been glaringly counterproductive, not that we had any other option, but rather this illusion Carleton—and other colleges across America—have, that online class is just in-person class but online, is incredible.

But I’ll leave the task of specific critiques to end-of-term surveys. I also don’t want this piece to become a Nicole Collins Pity-Party; quarantine has been a procession of yearnings for everybody and the one thing I’m positive people do not want to hear is more complaining—lest the top of their heads collectively blow off.

But since I returned home on March 13 there has been a steady precipitation of books in my room—or, more accurately, on my room. An obsession only seen during my more acute nervous spirals. My family jokes that it’s like traversing a minefield, walking through my space: step/hopping over trails of book-piles that slither from my door to my bed (rationale: so I don’t forget to read them); taking five minutes each evening before I sleep to migrate my books from my bed to either my desk or the floor, once the desk is filled to capacity; being completely engrossed in absently flipping through books on Zoom calls as they’re too hard to focus on to begin with; etc.

Jacques Derrida had once said that the typical American sense of humor had at its core a sense of normalizing the abnormal. Indeed that seems part of the whole thing here. In much the opposite way of Emmy Bovary reading sappy Italian novels to escape the mundanity of an unhappy provincial marriage, this fixation on books in my basement bedroom of Brookline, Mass. seems to thrive in the realization that whatever I come across, book-wise, is going to feel at once distracting from—and less scary than—capital-E Everything going on capital-O Outside. The memory is never as commanding as the experience. (My room has no windows.)

Academics have become a chore, online, and that old sense of curiosity and passion that always took over me in class has all but vanished. It’s difficult to do or produce much of anything. This 458-word column took two hours to write to a point where I did not despise it with all the power in my being. I hardly seem to be the only one experiencing this.

It could be worse. Sorry to gripe. But sometimes it’s hard to see over the stacks.

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Categories: Colleges

Gov. Walz announces phased reopening strategy, sparks controversy with legislators, nurses and churches

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 8:41am

The information presented in this article is drawn primarily from the Minnesota COVID-19 press conferences led by Governor Tim Walz.  These conferences will take place each weekday at 2:00 pm CST and can be listened to on Minnesota Public Radio. The Carletonian will provide summary coverage of these press conferences on a weekly basis through updates to this page.

Monday, May 18 – Friday, May 22: Walz announces phased reopening strategy, sparks controversy with legislators, nurses and churches

On Wednesday, May 20, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his team announced key components of the state’s reopening strategy, with the next phase set to be implemented beginning Monday, June 1.

The state’s newly published “Stay Safe Plan” outlines the upcoming June 1 changes (Phase II) as well as the subsequent Phases III and IV, for which no dates have been set.

Restaurants and bars may reopen for outdoor dining only on June 1, the governor announced. The state is requiring a long list of precautions in these settings, including socially distanced tables, a 50-person cap on occupancy, limited party size, mandatory reservations and mask usage.

Barber shops, salons and tattoo parlors may also reopen on June 1, said Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove. They must keep occupancy below 25% of their fire code capacity, and masks and reservations will be required. Campgrounds can also reopen with appropriate social distancing and sanitation.

Minnesota will still ask residents to limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer during the June 1 phase, Grove said.

Grove also laid out plans for the subsequent Phase III, when restaurants and bars will be permitted to open indoor dining with precautions. Outdoor entertainment venues and pools will be phased in at limited capacities, and the maximum gathering size will be increased to 20.

The following Phase IV will see gyms, bowling alleys and movie theaters opening with precautions, Grove said. Very large gatherings—such as large sporting events, festivals and concerts—will not be permitted during any of the announced phases, according to the state’s website. The Minnesota State Fair board announced Friday that the fair would be cancelled this year.

Walz’s announcement sparked controversy with Republican lawmakers, who criticized the proposed regulations as arbitrary and an overstep of the governor’s authority. Meanwhile, nurses expressed concern that the reopening would overwhelm hospitals. The Minnesota Nurses Association held a protest at the State Capital on Wednesday about shortages of personal protective equipment.

The Catholic Church and the Lutheran Missouri Synod in Minnesota criticized what they said was discrimination against religious institutions in the new regulations. Both church bodies said they would permit congregations to resume services next week in defiance of the governor’s orders.

The June 1 phase was originally set to limit both indoor and outdoor religious gatherings to 10 attendees—in keeping with the maximum size advised for social gatherings, but below the 50-person cap for restaurants. 

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that houses of worship will now be considered essential services during the pandemic, a move that supports religious institutions in defying state regulations to resume services.

In response to the Trump decision and pushback from Minnesota faith leaders, Walz revised his guidance Saturday to allow indoor religious services at 25% of building fire capacity beginning next Wednesday, May 27. Both indoor and outdoor services will be capped at 250 attendees, with masks recommended and social distancing required.

Minnesota is currently reporting 19,005 cases of COVID-19 and 842 deaths. Friday saw the state’s highest daily case increase so far, with 813 new cases reported. Rice County is currently reporting 328 cases—a 67% increase from last Friday. These cases remain heavily concentrated in Faribault, with just 22 cases in Northfield.

Faribault Daily News reported May 19 that the increase is largely due to increased screening for employees at manufacturing plants. Rice County’s cases are skewed towards minority groups, with 44% of the individuals being black, 14% Latino, 2% Asian, 10% white and 28% unknown, according to the Faribault Daily News report.

As Minnesota looks to expand testing, it is focusing on proactively pushing out tests to communities, said Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The state is also stepping up testing in long-term care facilities. In collaboration with MDH, 39 such facilities have tested all their residents, Malcolm said, with 30 additional facilities scheduled for next week.

The Minnesota National Guard will operate six temporary testing sites for Memorial Day weekend, Malcolm reported, where anyone can get a free test whether or not they present symptoms. One of these six testing sites is in Faribault.

Malcolm reported Friday that many hospitals in the Twin Cities Metro area are beginning to run short on bed capacity as COVID-19 cases increase. This does not include the surge capacity that these hospitals have prepared for the pandemic’s peak.

The governor’s team also announced on Tuesday that the state had purchased a former distribution warehouse in St. Paul to serve as a temporary morgue.

Meanwhile, State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield reported on Thursday that MDH will undertake several serology studies to learn more about the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies at a population level. The studies will include a random sample of households in seven parts of the state, a sample of grocery store and healthcare workers, and an examination of antibody levels in blood bank donors.

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Monday, May 11 – Friday, May 15: Minnesota to partially reopen Monday as stay-at-home order ends

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Wednesday, May 13 that the state’s stay-at-home order would not be renewed when it expires on Monday, May 18. It will be replaced with a “Stay Safe Minnesota” order that prescribes a cautious partial reopening.

Beginning on Monday, Minnesota’s non-critical retail stores and main street businesses—including retailers in malls—may reopen if they have a COVID-19 safety plan and can operate at 50% capacity or less. Restaurants, bars and hair salons must remain closed, Walz said, but his team has a target to reopen these businesses on June 1.

Minnesotans are strongly encouraged to wear masks in public and practice social distancing, Walz emphasized. In keeping with CDC guidance, the new Stay Safe MN order advises residents not to gather in groups larger than 10. The stay-at-home order, meanwhile, had encouraged Minnesotans to avoid contact with individuals outside their household.

The updated guidance will allow a range of activities—such as religious gatherings—to resume with 10 or fewer people in attendance. The new order still advises social distancing during such gatherings, Walz said. 

The governor asked Minnesotans to continue to limit travel wherever possible. “We believe the safest place you can be is at home,” he said.

Walz emphasized that the success of the reopening will depend on whether Minnesotans follow the recommended precautions. The state could potentially dial back the reopening process if the move produces significant negative effects, the governor said.

Walz also announced two executive orders to supplement Stay Safe MN. The first encourages individuals with the greatest risk for COVID-19 to continue to stay home wherever possible. According to the order, this includes anyone over 65, those living in long-term care facilities and those with underlying health conditions. 

The specified conditions include moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, immunocompromisation, severe obesity, and lung, liver or kidney disease. The order also offers provisions to support individuals experiencing homelessness.

The governor’s second executive order ensures that employees can raise concerns about the safety of their work environments without fear of retaliation or discrimination from their employers.

Walz said that after weeks of procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), increasing hospital capacity and ramping up resting, Minnesota is ready to meet the challenge of reopening. However, a reporter questioned the governor about concerns raised by the Minnesota Nurses Association, including reports that many hospitals are still dangerously rationing PPE.

Minnesota is currently reporting 14,240 cases of COVID-19 and 683 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Kris Ehresmann, director of the state’s Infectious Disease Division, reported on Thursday that 98.8% of Minnesota’s fatalities have occurred among individuals with a significant underlying health condition. Studies estimate that more than 30% of Minnesotans have such a condition, she said.

Rice County—where Carleton is located—is reporting 197 COVID-19 cases and two deaths. These cases are overwhelmingly centered in Faribault rather than Northfield, with just 10 confirmed cases among Northfield residents, according to the county’s website. Rice County ranks 12th out of Minnesota’s 87 counties for highest number of COVID-19 cases, MDH data shows.

At the Monday, May 11 briefing, State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield announced that Minnesota had received a small shipment of the antiviral drug Remdesivir from the federal government. The FDA issued emergency authorization of the drug on May 1 after preliminary data suggested that it reduced recovery time for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

According to Lynfield’s updates throughout the week, Minnesota received several small shipments of the drug, amounting to a full course of medication for fewer than 200 patients. Protocols were developed to provide the drug to patients with the highest need. Minnesota will receive a shipment on a weekly basis for the next four weeks, Lynfield reported on Thursday.

Lynfield also announced on Friday, May 15 that Minnesota had sent out a health alert about the multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children. Many experts suspect that the new syndrome, recently reported in New York and Europe, could be linked to COVID-19.

The syndrome is currently thought to be rare, Lynfield said. Children may present a range of symptoms including fever, inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting and rash. Additional information will be forthcoming from MDH next week, she added.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with the governor’s lifting of the stay-at-home order, the University of Minnesota (U of M) publicly released the third version of its COVID-19 model on Wednesday, May 13. State Health Economist Stefan Gildemeister and other Minnesota health officials held an online briefing with the media that same day to discuss the model.

According to the presentation shown during the briefing, the U of M modelled a variety of potential scenarios. These included unmitigated spread, extension of the stay-at-home order through the end of May, and a “soft reopening” beginning May 18—the strategy that was eventually adopted.

Under the “soft reopening” scenario, the model predicts that the peak of COVID-19 will fall at the end of June. This is a couple weeks earlier than predicted by the model’s second iteration. Minnesota’s projected ICU needs and mortality estimates have also been revised slightly upwards. This reflects, in part, that social distancing recommendations and the stay-at-home order did not reduce interpersonal contact as much as experts had hoped.

The new model predicts about 29,000 cumulative deaths from COVID-19 in Minnesota over a 12-month period. This number currently has a large uncertainty range, from 16,000 to 44,000 deaths, according to the presentation.

The model suggests that an extension of the stay-at-home order through the end of the month would have had a small but measurable effect on the course of COVID-19. Such a move would have delayed the peak by one week, the model posits, and slightly decreased cumulative deaths.

The code for earlier versions of the model has now been made publicly available on GitHub, Gildemeister said.

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Monday, May 4 – Friday, May 8: Minnesota projects $2.43 billion budget deficit

This week’s COVID-19 briefings from the team of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz included a sobering update on Tuesday, May 5 about the effects of the virus on the state budget. A new emergency projection estimates that Minnesota will face a $2.43 billion deficit for the 2020-21 fiscal period, according to Commissioner of Management and Budget Myron Frans. 

Minnesota went into the COVID-19 crisis with a projected $1.5 billion surplus for that same period, Frans said—meaning that projections have shifted by almost $4 billion in the past two months. The state typically releases budget projections in February and November each year. 

The emergency projection was completed at the request of the governor in an effort to better understand how COVID-19 will affect the state’s finances. Frans emphasized that the estimate contains uncertainties as the crisis continues to develop.  

The projected deficit comes from increased state spending to combat COVID-19, as well as decreased revenues from taxes. Income tax revenues will decrease as unemployment soars, said State Economist Laura Kalambokidis, while a drop in consumer spending will shrink sales tax revenues. Since mid-March, about 600,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment insurance, according to Kalambokidis.

As Minnesota faces the impending deficit, an important tool will be the $2.36 billion state budget reserve, which Frans described as a “rainy day fund.” Each November, one-third of any state budget surplus has historically been set aside in the reserve.

The funds in the budget reserve are currently at the highest level in state history, Frans said, putting Minnesota in a strong position to confront the crisis. However, he said, it would be dangerous to deplete all the funds in the reserve.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), announced during the May 5 briefing that the state will lift its ban on elective surgeries. These restrictions have been in place since March 19 to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduce interpersonal contact.

Facilities that resume elective procedures need to develop a plan to conserve PPE and protect staff and patients, Malcolm said. These plans do not need to be filed officially with the state. 

The easing of restrictions also extends to elective dental procedures, said Malcolm, although she added that many dental offices may choose to reopen on a gradual basis.

At the Thursday, May 7 briefing, state health officials presented an aggressive plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. About 80% of Minnesota’s fatalities have been among long-term care facility residents, Malcolm said.

Under the new plan, MDH prescribes facility-wide testing when a positive case is confirmed in a facility, or when multiple residents and staff develop symptoms. This is a change from previous guidance that advised testing for symptomatic individuals only.

MDH is also working to provide crisis staffing options for long-term care facilities, Malcolm said. Many facilities are struggling to ensure adequate staffing levels as employees take time away from work due to suspected COVID-19 exposure.

Finally, MDH will work more closely with the State Emergency Management Center and local public health officials in an effort to expand its capacity to address the needs of long-term care centers.

As of Thursday, May 5, one out of every five Minnesota nursing homes had a confirmed COVID-19 case, Malcolm said, while fewer than one in ten assisted living facilities had a case. Cases have been detected in a total of 330 facilities, with 143 of these having more than two cases.

Minnesota is currently reporting 10,088 cases of COVID-19 and 544 deaths, Malcolm announced on Friday, May 8. 

Data from Tuesday showed that five Minnesota counties with outbreaks at food processing plants accounted for about a quarter of the state’s cases. These counties—Nobles, Stearns, Kandiyohi, Martin and Cottonwood—are all located outside of the Twin Cities Metro area, which has otherwise seen the highest case numbers.

At Friday’s briefing, Lieutenant Gov. Peggy Flanagan spoke to equity issues surrounding COVID-19. She noted that almost 30% of indigenous individuals in Minnesota’s labor force have applied for unemployment insurance, along with almost 21% of Hispanic Minnesotans, 22% of Asian Minnesotans and 31% of black Minnesotans in the labor force. 

Flanagan leads the state’s Community Resiliency and Recovery Work Group, which was launched in April to address health and economic equity issues related to the virus.

Friday, May 1: Minnesota confronts COVID-19 risks at long-term care facilities, food processing plants

During the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) officials Jan Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann spent time discussing statistics related to COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities.

The majority of the state’s 371 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred among long-term care facility residents. A total of 244 facilities have reported at least one case of COVID-19, with over half of these reporting two or fewer cases, Ehresmann said. Twenty-one facilities have reported 20 or more cases, although this total may include some facilities specifically dedicated to receiving COVID-19 patients.

Long-term care facilities include both nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Residents are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age, the communal nature of the residence, and the high prevalence of underlying medical conditions.

Minnesota continues to increase COVID-19 testing, with 4,124 tests conducted statewide on Thursday—almost double the daily totals seen at the beginning of this week. Malcolm announced that Minnesota will soon start receiving 47,000 nasal swabs—a critical supply for diagnostic testing—on a weekly basis through the Federal Emergency Management Fund.

The state is also confronting increasing COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing facilities, where hundreds of employees often work in close quarters. 

In Nobles County, home of the JBS pork processing plant, testing suggests a per-capita infection rate of 4%, with at least 40% of these cases tied to the plant, WCCO reported today. JBS suspended operations indefinitely on April 20. 

Earlier this week, the plant announced a limited reopening to slaughter and dispose of hogs without processing them—an effort to assist farmers who have been left with nowhere to send their hogs to market. The limited staff will consist of just 10 to 20 employees, according to the JBS website.

On Tuesday, April 28, President Donald Trump issued an executive order giving the federal government the authority to mandate that meat packing plants remain open under the Defense Production Act (DPA). The DPA is a wartime manufacturing provision that allows the federal government to direct the production of critical resources.

The order states that closures of meat packing plants “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

Malcolm called the order “problematic” during Tuesday’s press conference, citing the health risks of keeping plants open if they are facing outbreaks.

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Thursday, April 30: Walz extends stay-at-home order to May 18, allows retailers to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today extended the state’s stay-at-home order to May 18, with dine-in services at restaurants and bars also to remain closed until that date. At the same time, Walz announced that retail businesses can reopen for curbside pickup and delivery services beginning this Monday, May 4.

The new retail provision will help up to 30,000 Minnesotans return to work, the governor said. The decision was made in consultation with state chambers of commerce, retail associations and business and labor leaders, according to Steve Grove, commissioner for employment and economic development. The strategy to reopen on an incremental basis is consistent with guidance from the National Retail Federation and the Minnesota Retailers Association, Grove added.

Under the new provision, retail businesses may conduct curbside pickup and delivery services with limited contact between customers and employees. Customers should remain in their cars whenever possible, said Grove, and contactless payment methods are highly suggested. Both customers and employees are asked to wear masks and gloves. 

Businesses that reopen are asked to produce a written plan describing how they will minimize transmission risks for COVID-19. They do not have to provide these plans to the state, Grove said. Minnesota is also asking businesses to perform health screenings for employees.

In addition to the sale of consumer goods, the order has room to accommodate some maintenance and repair services as well as pet grooming, Grove explained.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, made an appearance at the briefing to discuss the new provision.

The incremental reopening comes as Minnesota continues to climb the COVID-19 curve. However, Walz said he feels confident in the state’s situation, as hospitals have used the past weeks to increase capacity and prepare for a growing number of COVID-19 patients.

Minnesota has seen a significant jump in cases in the past week, an effect that is likely tied to increased testing through a partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. After weeks of averaging around 1,500 tests per day, Minnesota yesterday performed 3,279 tests as state officials recommend testing for any symptomatic individual. Minnesota’s testing website now lists 177 testing locations statewide.

Testing has focused in particular on communities where meat-packing plants have seen outbreaks. Nobles County, whose JBS pork processing plant saw a significant outbreak last week, is now reporting over 700 cases—a per capita infection rate approaching that of New York City, according to Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Walz said that in the coming days, his team will look towards relaxing the current ban on elective surgeries, which was enacted to minimize interpersonal contact and preserve critical medical supplies. The ban, which has been in place since March 19, covers procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals. The upcoming decision will be made in close consultation with hospitals, Walz added.

The governor said he does not currently know whether restaurants and bars will be permitted to reopen dine-in services after May 18. His team hopes to learn from results seen in other states and in Minnesota itself as curbside pickup services begin.

Minnesota is currently reporting 5,136 cases of COVID-19 and 343 deaths.

Wednesday, April 29: Shuttered nursing home in Roseville chosen as state’s first alternate care site

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly announced during today’s COVID-19 briefing that his team has chosen a recently shuttered nursing home in Roseville as the state’s first alternate care site.

Alternate care sites are facilities outside of hospitals that Minnesota could use as overflow capacity if hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Such sites would not house intensive care patients, but rather those who require minimal care—such as an individual recovering from a broken arm. This would free up additional hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

The nursing home can accommodate up to 100 beds, Kelly said, with the repurposing process set to be completed within a couple weeks. The building is a property of Presbyterian Homes, a company that manages senior care facilities in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, hospitals are doing their part to increase intensive care capacity on-site. Medical facilities statewide have made arrangements to more than double ICU capacity, Kelly said. With these efforts, he added, he hopes that alternate care facilities like the one in Roseville will never have to be used.

Minnesota is now reporting 4,645 cases of COVID-19 and 319 deaths. Of these deaths, 78% have occurred among long-term care facility residents, according to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann. An overwhelming 99.2% of the deceased individuals had an underlying condition that put them at higher risk for COVID-19. Such conditions include immunosuppression, pre-existing respiratory conditions, diabetes, obesity and various conditions associated with the elderly, according to Ehresmann.

Steve Grove, commissioner for employment and economic development, offered an update on employee screening resources, as some manufacturing and office-based businesses reopen this week. The Department of IT Services and the Minnesota Safety Council have partnered with Target to develop the Minnesota Symptom Screener, Grove announced. This tool allows businesses to track employees’ temperatures and responses to COVID-19 screening questions with complete anonymity.

The resulting data can give employers a big-picture sense of developments over time, Grove explained. He stressed that it is optional for both employers and employees. Hundreds of businesses have signed up to use the tool since it was announced.

Target also recently developed and stocked a no-touch infrared thermometer that it is offering to Minnesota businesses at wholesale cost, Grove said.

Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic made headlines Tuesday when Vice President Mike Pence visited Rochester to tour the facility. Pence drew media attention and controversy when he declined to wear a cloth mask during the tour, despite a Mayo policy requiring that visitors wear masks. Pence stated that he did not need to wear a mask because he is regularly tested for COVID-19.

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Tuesday, April 28: Testing has nearly doubled since last week, but remains insufficient

COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates have nearly doubled in Minnesota since Gov. Tim Walz announced the state’s testing partnership with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic last Wednesday, April 22. The testing volume, however, still falls well below Walz’ stated goal of at least 5,000 tests per day.

In the week preceding last Wednesday’s announcement, Minnesota performed an average of 1,300 tests daily. Since then, as state officials encouraged clinics and hospitals to test any symptomatic individual, that number has increased to nearly 2,400 tests per day.

According to Minnesota’s COVID-19 testing website, the Allina Health clinic in Faribault is the nearest testing location to Carleton. That clinic recently opened up its testing to any symptomatic individual. Testing is available by appointment from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, according to the Minnesota testing website.

During the daily COVID-19 update from state officials, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, offered a clearer picture on both the possibilities and limitations of serological testing. In contrast to diagnostic testing—which determines whether an individual is currently infected with COVID-19—serological testing detects whether an individual has COVID-19 antibodies in their bloodstream. The presence of antibodies means that the person was previously exposed to the virus.

Lynfield emphasized that we do not currently have a good understanding of the extent to which individuals receive immunity to COVID-19 after recovering from the disease. Both the strength and the duration of immunity vary greatly between different types of viruses, she explained, and we do not currently know where COVID-19 falls on this spectrum.

This uncertainty means that even if an individual tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies, they would need to continue to social distance, Lynfield said. At least for now, a positive serology test is not a ticket back to normalcy.

With this in mind, Lynfield currently sees two major purposes for serological testing in Minnesota. First, she explained, it could help officials understand how many people have been exposed to the virus on a population level. Second, individuals with antibodies could serve as convalescent plasma donors to help patients with COVID-19 fight off the virus.

It can take a week or more for an infected individual to develop detectable antibodies, Lynfield said, meaning that the accuracy of the serology test depends greatly on when it is administered. There are currently over one hundred serological tests on the market with a range of reliability levels, she added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 4,181 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 365 cases over yesterday as the state ramps up its testing and focuses on communities with larger outbreaks. Minnesota has seen 301 deaths from COVID-19.

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Monday, April 27: COVID-19 threatens Minnesota meat packing facilities

During today’s COVID-19 briefing, state commissioners addressed concerns about the spread of the virus in Minnesota meat packing facilities.

The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, suspended operations last Monday, April 20 due to a community COVID-19 outbreak with suspected links to the plant. Last Friday, April 24, Jennie-O Turkey Store followed suit, temporarily shuttering its turkey processing facilities in Willmar, Minnesota after several employees tested positive.

The closures are drawing attention to the potential for food processing facilities—where large numbers of employees often work in close quarters—to become COVID-19 hotbeds.

According to Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry, state officials reached out to about 50 of the largest Minnesota meat packing facilities last week. Leppink’s department is partnering with the Departments of Health and Agriculture to offer assistance to these plants, including on-site consultations and advising on social distancing protocols.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is also reaching out to vegetable canning plants to offer similar support, said Infectious Disease Division Coordinator Kris Ehresmann.

The objective is to keep the facilities open wherever possible, Leppink said. This will require purposeful adjustments to the plants’ procedures.

In response to the outbreak at the JBS plant, MDH is partnering with local provider Sanford Health to implement aggressive screening and testing for JBS employees, according to Ehresmann. The outbreak is likely a result of both workplace and community exposure, she explained.

Thom Petersen, commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, spoke to the consequences of the closures for Minnesota farmers. Smithfield—a Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant that has been closed since April 15—and the JBS plant account for more than 50% of the market for Minnesota hogs, he said, typically processing between 100,000 and 200,000 hogs per week.

Smaller Minnesota plants are working to pick up the slack, including by processing on weekends, Petersen explained, while farmers are altering hogs’ diets to decrease time pressures. Still, he said, there will be a need to euthanize some animals, a process that some farmers have already begun. Consumers may also see higher meat prices and decreased supplies in grocery stores.

Minnesota is currently reporting 3,816 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 215 cases from yesterday. The state has seen 286 deaths, with 223 of these occurring among long-term care facility residents.

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Friday, April 24: Minnesota to continue with distance learning through end of school year

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Thursday, April 23 that Minnesota K-12 schools would continue with distance learning through the end of the school year. Walz and his team today dedicated their COVID-19 press conference to discussion of the state’s distance learning plan.

“The magnitude of this decision is huge,” Walz said. “The impact it has on children and families certainly can’t be understated.”

Mary Cathryn Ricker, state commissioner of education, outlined the goals of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) for the remainder of the school year. The department is focusing on getting broadband and technology access to students who are still without the Internet connections and devices they need to learn online. MDE is also organizing webinars for teachers to offer support and guidance.

It is crucial that each student have multiple adults from their school community checking in on them, Ricker added, as many students have lost vital connections with support networks outside their families. She did not offer specific statistics on attendance for the past weeks of distance learning.

Distance learning in Minnesota, as in so many areas of the country, has been filled with challenges and inadequacies. The press conference featured first-hand testimonies of these issues from two Minnesota teachers and two students, as well as Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan.

Flanagan discussed the inequities inherent in distance learning. The burden has fallen heavily on those without proper technology access, she said, including low-income families and those living in rural areas with poor or non-existent Internet access. The new learning situation has also disproportionately affected communities of color, English language learners, families of students with special needs and families in financial crisis, she added.

Glazell Toledo, a high school math teacher in Intermediate District 287—a specialized district serving high-need students from the West Metro area—spoke further on this topic. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the challenges that many of her students faced before the pandemic, she said, including mental health struggles, trauma and homelessness. Many of her students are now working extra hours to support their families or serving as full-time caretakers for siblings. Toledo has been unable to get in touch with some of her students during distance learning.

Angela Forland, a third-grade teacher from Spring Valley in southeastern Minnesota, shared that poor Internet service at her rural home left her unable to access video chat services, online classroom forums and her school’s grading platform. She and her two elementary-aged children spent two weeks relying on cellular data or completing their work between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. when Internet performance was better. Eventually, Forland opted to report to her school building for better Internet, keeping herself and her children quarantined in her classroom throughout the workday. 

Today’s briefing also included an announcement that the Minnesota COVID-19 testing website is now live at https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/if-sick/. The new site includes a self-screening questionnaire to help residents assess whether they should seek out testing. The site also features a map of testing locations throughout the state.

According to the webpage, Rice County—where Carleton is located—currently has only one testing site, at the Allina Health clinic in Faribault. The Faribault clinic is currently testing only symptomatic individuals who are long-term care facility residents, first responders, healthcare workers and family members of healthcare workers. 

This means that testing at the Faribault clinic is not accessible to most members of the Carleton community residing in Northfield. Several clinics and hospitals in the Twin Cities area are offering testing to all symptomatic patients.

Minnesota is currently reporting 3,185 cases of COVID-19 and 221 deaths.

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Thursday, April 23: Executive order allows 20,000 industrial and office-based businesses to return to work next week 

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today announced an executive order that will permit some industrial, manufacturing and office-based businesses to resume on-site operations next Monday, April 27. These businesses must be non-customer-facing, meaning that their operations cannot involve any face-to-face contact with the public.

The order will permit about 20,000 businesses to reopen, said Commissioner for Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove during the governor’s daily COVID-19 briefing. This will pave the way for between 80,000 and 100,000 employees to return to work.

Businesses that intend to reopen must follow certain guidelines, Grove explained. Each business must create a COVID-19 preparedness plan following guidance from the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health. Such plans could include components like surface control and disinfection protocol, Grove said. The state has developed a template plan that businesses may opt to use.

The plans do not need to be submitted to the state, Grove said, but they must be posted and disseminated to all employees. The state reserves the right to request a copy of any plan if there is reason for concern about a business’s practices, he added.

Businesses must also conduct daily health screenings for each employee upon arrival, Grove said. This could include taking workers’ temperatures and asking them if they are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The order does not mandate that businesses reopen, but simply paves the way for them to make that choice, Grove explained. Businesses that resume on-site operations are instructed to keep employees working remotely wherever possible.

The requirements outlined in the order do not apply to essential businesses that have remained open throughout the pandemic, Grove clarified. However, the requirements take inspiration from essential businesses that are already implementing such measures.

Some essential businesses will likely be making changes in the coming weeks as well. In the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in southwestern Minnesota, large meat packing plants should be reevaluating their protocols, said Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry. This could include slowing down production, increasing social distancing measures and ensuring that employees have the means to stay home when sick, she said.

Most of those eligible to return to work under the new order will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance, Grove said. Important exceptions include employees now serving as caretakers for a child or another individual due to COVID-19, and employees with conditions that put them at high risk for the disease.

The current volume of state unemployment insurance applications has now exceeded the number seen in Minnesota during the Great Recession, Grove added.

The new executive order was crafted with input from Chambers of Commerce, labor unions, and business and labor leaders across Minnesota, Grove said. The governor’s team also consulted experts on designing social distancing protocols for workplaces.

Walz emphasized that the reopening process will be gradual. The state plans to “gradually and safely loosen restrictions starting with settings most conducive to safe practices,” according to the presentation displayed during the briefing. The overall stay-at-home order remains in effect until May 4.

Walz spoke of “adjusting the dials,” or slowing and intentionally loosening restrictions where it makes the most sense. Everyday life will be different for quite some time, he said, with remote work, physical distancing, face masks and symptom screening becoming the norm.

The governor emphasized the distinction between predictable settings—such as a manufacturing plant where each employee works in a designated area—and unpredictable settings, such as shopping malls and sporting events where large numbers of people mix.

While CDC guidance recommends that customer-facing businesses reopen only when a state has seen a decrease in cases for 14 days, Walz said that he would consider implementing a more state-specific approach to allow such businesses to reopen sooner. With Minnesota’s peak expected in late May or during the summer, it may be a long time before cases begin to decrease, he explained. A robust strategy of testing, tracing and isolating could facilitate an earlier reopening.

However, the governor emphasized that the return of large public events like baseball games remains a long way away. While a decision has not yet been made, Walz conceded that he is not optimistic about holding the Minnesota State Fair this September.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,942 cases of COVID-19 and 200 deaths.

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Wednesday, April 22: University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic partner with state to increase testing

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his team today unveiled a partnership with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota that will allow the state to significantly increase its testing capacity.

Effective immediately, state guidelines now recommend diagnostic testing for all Minnesotans who exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Previously, testing was only available to symptomatic individuals belonging to certain priority groups, such as long-term care facility residents and healthcare workers.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota will together create a central lab to accommodate the expanded testing capacity. The two organizations will also oversee a virtual command center that will manage the daily flow of testing to ensure that goals are met.

The collaboration will include a large-scale effort to coordinate testing supplies, collection capacity, laboratory capacity, and patient demand, Malcolm said. Disconnect between these pieces has been one of the reasons that testing in Minnesota has fallen short, she explained. 

Malcolm believes that this improved coordination alone could increase the state testing volume to about 8,000 tests per day. In addition, new types of tests in development at Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota are expected to further ramp up testing volume. Minnesota is currently testing between 1,000 and 1,500 individuals on a typical day, according to the MDH website.

Malcolm stressed the importance of keeping testing sites as close to home as possible, saying that residents would ideally have access to a test through their regular healthcare provider. Each provider should make the shift towards testing all symptomatic individuals in the coming days and weeks, she said.

A website is currently under construction that will indicate the locations of all testing sites statewide, Malcolm added. There will also be a hotline designed to direct residents to testing sites. 

The funding for the collaboration will come from a $36 million withdrawal from the state COVID-19 emergency fund, Malcolm said. The withdrawal was recently approved by the Minnesota legislature.

Walz and his team were joined at the press conference by Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School; Dr. William Morice, chair of Mayo Clinic Laboratories; Andrea Walsh, CEO of HealthPartners; and Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Each offered thoughts on the potential of the new collaboration.

According to Morice, the collaboration will prioritize in-state testing. Most test results will have a turn-around time of under 24 hours, he added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,721 cases of COVID-19 and 179 deaths. The state saw 19 deaths in the past day, the largest daily increase observed thus far.

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Tuesday, April 21: State focuses attention on long-term care facilities

Tuesday’s Minnesota COVID-19 press conference focused on updates on how the state is working with long-term care facilities to reduce risks for their residents. Over one hundred long-term care facilities statewide have seen at least one case of COVID-19. 

Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Michelle Larson, director for the MDH Health Regulation Division, and Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann described the work their teams are doing for long-term care facilities.

This includes immediately contacting any facility that reports its first case and working directly with that facility to implement protocols to reduce spread. In addition, the state coordinates a weekly group call with long-term care facility directors statewide, which usually attracts about 1,500 participants, according to Larson.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,567 cases of COVID-19 and 160 deaths. Of these 160 deaths, 113 were individuals associated with long-term care facilities, according to Ehresmann.

Malcolm added that although long-term care facility residents make up about 70% of total deaths, they represent a smaller percentage of COVID-19 patients hospitalized and in the ICU. Younger individuals are still at risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms requiring hospitalization, she explained, but they are more likely to survive the disease.

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Monday, April 20: JBS pork processing plant suspends operations amid outbreak

The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, has suspended its operations indefinitely amid a COVID-19 outbreak in the community, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz explained during his daily COVID-19 update.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), there are 77 confirmed cases in Nobles County, where Worthington is located, with more testing still to be done. Thirty-three of these individuals work at JBS, and six are family members of JBS employees. Many of the affected employees are undocumented immigrants, Malcolm explained, with many also facing language barriers.

Malcolm added there may be a link between the JBS outbreak and another recent outbreak at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, since many families have family members working at both plants.

According to Thom Petersen, commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, the JBS and Smithfield plants represent about 50% of market demand for Minnesota hog farmers. The closures have put these farmers in a difficult economic position.

Nancy Leppink, commissioner for the Department of Labor and Industry, explained that the state is working with meat processing plants to develop guidelines to keep workers safe. All other meat processing plants in the state currently remain operational. 

Walz reported during the press conference that he had received a call from President Donald Trump on Saturday, April 18, following Trump’s tweet of “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” the previous day—a message that presumably referenced protests of the state’s stay-at-home order. 

He and Trump had a “good conversation,” the governor said. The 10-minute phone call touched on how Minnesota is aligning with federal guidelines, as well as topics such as PPE shortages. Walz emphasized a message of unity to listeners, stating that he wants to avoid public arguments and hopes to cooperate with the federal government to fight COVID-19.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,470 cases of COVID-19.

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Friday, April 17: Seven Midwestern governors form COVID-19 compact

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced during his daily COVID-19 press conference that Minnesota is partnering with six other Midwestern states in a coalition to fight COVID-19 and coordinate economic reopening. The group consists of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. 

Walz explained that the seven governors will not necessarily move in lockstep, but will rather share practices with each other. The coalition is bipartisan, with two of the states having Republican governors and five having Democratic governors, he added.

Walz also responded to reporter questions about recent protests of the stay-at-home order outside of his residence. The governor emphasized that his top priority is the health of Minnesotans, adding that he strongly supports citizens’ right to protest.

The governor also addressed reporter inquiries about a tweet sent out by President Donald Trump earlier this morning, which read “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Trump sent out similar tweets aimed at Michigan and Virginia around the same time, presumably in response to protests in those states. Walz said that he had called Trump and Vice President Mike Pence multiple times since viewing the tweet to inquire about how they believe Minnesota’s COVID-19 response differs from other states’. He had received no reply.

Walz also spoke about concerns of a COVID-19 cluster in Worthington, Minnesota, where the JBS pork processing plant is located. Worthington, in the southwestern part of the state, is an hour away from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a recent outbreak at the Smithfield pork processing plant led to a temporary shutdown. Many Minnesotans commute between the two cities, Walz explained, and it is common for families to have family members working at both plants.

There are 30 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Worthington, with at least seven of these being linked to the JBS plant—a number that is expected to rise, Walz said. The plant is currently still operational but is taking additional precautions.

The press conference also featured guest appearances from John Hick, a physician in the Hennepin County medical system and manager of the State Healthcare Coordination System, as well as Mary Turner, an ICU nurse who serves as president of the Minnesota Nurses’ Association. Hick spoke about continued coordination between the healthcare and emergency management sectors to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases. Turner provided testimony of her experiences in a COVID-19 ICU unit, and thanked Minnesotans for buying time to prevent the state healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

Minnesota is currently reporting 2,071 cases of COVID-19 and 117 deaths.

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Thursday, April 16: University of Minnesota proposes performing 20,000 tests per day

The University of Minnesota today released a proposal suggesting that it could eventually scale up its testing to 10,000 diagnostic tests and 10,000 serology tests per day, according to the Minnesota daily COVID-19 update from the team of Gov. Tim Walz. 

This total of 20,000 daily tests would greatly exceed Walz’s previous stated goal of at least 5,000 tests per day. It would represent about a 15-fold increase over the number of tests that Minnesota is currently performing.

According to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the state would first direct increased testing capacity towards currently prioritized groups. MDH guidelines mandate that congregate care facility residents, the elderly, hospitalized patients, healthcare workers, first responders, childcare providers and those with underlying conditions should be prioritized for testing if they present symptoms. However, not all such individuals have been able to access testing due to limited supplies, Malcolm explained.

The next priority for testing would be individuals who present symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but do not belong to any of the current priority groups, she added.

Malcolm also responded to reporter questions about recent protests outside the governor’s residence as some Minnesotans demand the reopening of the state’s economy.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,912 cases of COVID-19 and 94 deaths.

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Wednesday, April 15: Walz sets goal of at least 35,000 tests per week

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz stressed his goal of increasing state testing capacity to 35,000 to 40,000 tests per week, in order to put Minnesota on a path towards reopening.

This would correspond to 5,000 or more COVID-19 tests per day. Currently, on a typical day, Minnesota labs perform between 1,000 and 1,500 tests, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) website.

According to Walz, the increased capacity will ideally be a combination of diagnostic tests—the type of tests that Minnesota is currently performing—and serology tests, which determine whether an individual has COVID-19 antibodies in their bloodstream from prior exposure. Serology tests have the advantage of not requiring a nasal swab, which would alleviate some of the supply chain challenges that Minnesota currently faces for testing.

Serology testing is currently still under development, said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Due to a relaxed FDA approval process designed to speed the tests’ arrival on the market, some serology test variants are likely to be unreliable, she added.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,809 cases of COVID-19 and 87 deaths.

Malcolm noted that 108 long-term care facilities in the state have seen at least one case of COVID-19. Half of those sites have only one case, she noted, suggesting that containment efforts within the facilities are seeing success.

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Tuesday, April 14: Roughly 14% of Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance

Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz included important medical and economic data, offering a clearer picture of the effects of the pandemic statewide.

COVID-19 fatalities in Minnesota are still heavily skewed towards the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. About 98.5% of Minnesotans who have died of COVID-19 had an underlying or preexisting health condition, Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann reported during the conference. The deceased individuals ranged in age from 56 to 100 years old, with a median age of 87, she added.

Ehresmann noted that Minnesota’s death count includes only those individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. It is possible that some individuals have died of the disease without ever being tested.

Of the 79 fatalities in the state, 57 were associated with long-term care facilities, Ehresmann added. Minnesota is currently reporting 1,695 cases of COVID-19.

Steve Grove, state commissioner of employment and economic development, announced that in the past month, Minnesota has received twice the number of unemployment insurance applications that it received in all of 2019. About 14% of the Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance, Grove said.

Close to 15% of applicants are under the age of 25, Grove reported, with 21% being over 55. A quarter of applicants have a high school diploma or less.

The pandemic’s economic fallout has disproportionately affected people of color in Minnesota. Among people of color in the state’s labor force, almost 26% have applied for unemployment insurance, as opposed to just over 12% of white Minnesotans in the labor force. 

As Minnesota faces challenges in acquiring enough testing supplies and personal protective equipment, Gov. Walz advocated for the possibility of regional cooperation on manufacturing in the Midwest.

Walz also said his team is interested in exploring the use of serology tests to identify individuals who have had COVID-19 and might therefore have immunity. Such tests are being fast-tracked for approval by the Federal Drug Administration. Jan Malcolm, state commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health, noted that there are concerns about the reliability of some serology tests coming onto the market.

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Monday, April 13: Walz emphasizes “test, trace, isolate” strategy

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz emphasized that the key to reopening the state economy is developing a robust strategy of widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolating affected individuals. Walz conceded that current supplies of tests and personal protective equipment are far before what is needed to implement such a strategy.

Minnesota has conducted about 40,000 COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began. Walz said he hopes to eventually test that many people on a weekly basis. 

Minnesota will need to find innovative solutions to confront supply chain challenges and make testing widely available, the governor said. He added that his team does not currently have enough information to say whether business closures will extend beyond May 4.

Myron Frans, Minnesota commissioner of management and budget, reported that his office will release state budget projections in early May to offer a better picture of the effects of COVID-19 on the state’s finances. 

The state has also implemented a hiring freeze on all executive branch positions not related to COVID-19 needs, Frans said. Gov. Walz, his chief of staff, and his 24 cabinet commissioners will take a 10% pay cut for the rest of the year, he added.

Charlie Zelle, chair of the Metropolitan Council, announced that Metro Mobility will now offer free transport to and from work for essential healthcare workers in the Twin Cities area. Public transport has been cut back since the pandemic began, Zelle said, leaving Metro Mobility with excess capacity that can now be directed towards supporting healthcare workers.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,650 cases of COVID-19 and 70 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health.

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Friday, April 10: Additional information released on University of Minnesota COVID-19 model

Minnesota today released additional information on the University of Minnesota epidemiological model that Gov. Tim Walz is using to inform state COVID-19 policy. The model—one of several that the governor’s team is consulting—was created by experts at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

State health economist Stefan Gildemeister briefed reporters and state lawmakers on the model today, according to the Pioneer Press. The briefing comes after repeated inquiries from the press at Walz’s daily COVID-19 conferences, asking for additional details and greater transparency on the model.

The video recording and slide deck from Gildemeister’s presentation are available to the public on a new section of Minnesota’s COVID-19 website dedicated to the model. The new webpage also includes frequently asked questions, an infographic, and technical documentation for the model.

According to resources on the webpage, the state plans to eventually make the model accessible to the public in an interactive user interface, as well as publishing its code. The team hopes to release this interface within the month of April.

The university model uses data from other countries and states that are further along their COVID-19 curves, the webpage said. At the same time, it inputs Minnesota-specific information such as demographics, underlying health conditions, and in-state deaths. 

During the daily COVID-19 briefing, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm emphasized that the university model is just one tool being used by Walz’s team. She also stressed the need to recognize the uncertainty inherent in the modelling process.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,336 cases of COVID-19 and 57 deaths, Malcolm said. Thirty-six of those deaths have been among congregate care facility residents.  In Minnesota, 82 congregate care facilities have seen at least one case or exposure, added Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann.

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Thursday, April 9: Walz responds to criticism of stay-at-home order extension

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,242 cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths, Gov. Tim Walz reported at his daily press conference. The state saw 11 new deaths within the past day, the largest daily increase thus far.

During the press conference, Walz responded to reporter questions about state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s criticism of the stay-at-home order. The order, which was set to expire on Friday, April 10, was yesterday extended to May 4.

Gazelka, a Republican, tweeted just before Thursday’s press conference that he disapproved of Walz’s “unilateral” decision to extend the order. He continued with a second tweet questioning the validity of the prediction that Minnesota may require up to 5,000 ICU beds, noting that New York state currently has fewer than 5,000 patients in the ICU. “We are ready for the surge now,” Gazelka wrote.

Walz told the press that his decision to continue the stay-at-home order is backed by the expertise of the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, state hospitals, and several COVID-19 models. 

Gazelka’s criticism marks the first significant partisan rift in Minnesota’s pandemic response. The senator had previously collaborated with Walz on COVID-19 legislation, and earlier tweeted that he welcomed Walz’s decision to allow some non-essential employees to return to work, according to the Star Tribune.

Walz also responded to reports of a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, near Minnesota’s southwestern border. The plant is reporting 80 COVID-19 cases, according to the Star Tribune. Walz mentioned concerns of spillover given that many residents commute between Sioux Falls and Worthington, Minnesota.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reported that his team is working to provide quarantine options for infected individuals who do not have a place to self-isolate, such as homeless individuals and those living in close quarters with family members. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide reimbursement to Minnesota for the costs of quarantining these individuals in hotel rooms and similar locations, Kelly said.

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Wednesday, April 8: Stay-at-home order extended to May 4

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today extended the state’s stay-at-home order until Monday, May 4. The order, which began on Friday, March 27, was originally set to expire on Friday, April 10. 

Walz stated during his daily COVID-19 press conference that the stay-at-home order is being extended to correspond to CDC guidelines prescribing social distancing until April 30, and to “buy more time” for Minnesota to slow the spread of the virus. The extension was recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health and hospitals in the state.

The latest modelling projects that the disease’s peak for Minnesota could arrive as early as mid-May or as late as July, Walz said. Based on the model, a minimum of 3,000 ICU beds are expected to be required.

The governor is trying to help some non-essential employees return to work despite the stay-at-home order, although he stressed that this will only be permitted where rigorous social distancing can be maintained. Walz cited landscaping, lawn-mowing, and businesses managing their inventories as sectors that may reopen with appropriate precautions. 

Bars and restaurants, previously slated to be closed until May 1, will now remain closed until May 4 to correspond with the new order, Walz said.

The governor admitted that the state is still struggling to increase supplies of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). Walz said he is optimistic about acquiring ventilators through Minnesota biotechnology company Medtronic, and added that additional units may become available from other states as their peaks pass.

Minnesota is currently reporting 1,154 cases of COVID-19 and 39 deaths, according to Commissioner Jan Malcolm from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

Malcolm also noted that Minnesota has expanded its COVID-19 testing criteria. Childcare providers, first responders, individuals over 65, individuals with underlying health conditions, and individuals living with healthcare workers will now be prioritized for testing if they present symptoms, according to the MDH website. Testing is still largely unavailable to those without symptoms.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that as of Tuesday, April 7, his office has begun processing $600 payments from the federal government, which many unemployed Minnesotans are eligible for under the CARES Act. The payments, which are backdated to March 29, will be sent automatically  to eligible individuals.

Wednesday’s COVID-19 conference marked the first time in two weeks that Walz has delivered his updates in-person with his team. The governor was quarantined at home after coming into contact with an infected individual. Walz displayed no symptoms while in isolation.

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Tuesday, April 7: Extension to stay-at-home order expected tomorrow

Minnesotans can expect an announcement tomorrow extending the state’s stay-at-home order, Gov. Tim Walz said during his daily COVID-19 update. The order will undergo some small changes to get employees back to work wherever possible, he added.

Walz acknowledged the difficulties of social distancing as many religious traditions are preparing for major holidays such as Passover, Easter and Ramadan. He reiterated that people should not gather in large numbers, but encouraged Minnesotans to continue their religious practice in other ways.

Minnesotans have largely followed the stay-at-home order, Walz said. There have been eight incidents statewide where police have written a citation for a violation of the order, according to Walz.

Minnesota is reporting 1,069 cases and 34 deaths from COVID-19. The four most recent deaths were all among long-term care facility residents, according to Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. Cases in the state are currently doubling every eight days—a lower rate than in many areas of the country, Malcolm said, although testing disparities still prevent us from seeing the full picture.

According to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota is not currently counting presumptive cases—individuals who exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19 but who are not eligible for testing. The state is working to create a definition to identify such cases, she added.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that his office has received over 355,000 unemployment insurance applications since mid-March, representing about 11.4% of the Minnesota labor force.

The burden of unemployment has not fallen equally. Grove reported that 19% of working-age people of color have applied for unemployment insurance in Minnesota, as compared to 9.5% of the white working-age population. In response to this disparity, his office has worked to partner with lenders who serve communities of color. Nearly half of all loans provided through Minnesota’s Small Business Emergency Loan program have gone through these lenders, Grove said.

As the stay-at-home order continues, new sectors of the economy are being affected, Grove said, with applications from employees in transportation, warehousing, information and public administration increasing in the past week.

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Monday, April 6: stay-at-home order likely to be extended

Minnesotans can expect an update on the state’s stay-at-home order by the middle of this week, Gov. Tim Walz reported during his daily COVID-19 press conference. The governor suggested that the order—which is set to expire on Friday, April 10—will likely be extended in light of federal guidelines prescribing social distancing until April 30.

Walz and his team are reviewing the order “sector-by-sector” to identify areas for improvement, he said. The governor will continue to support social distancing while making tweaks to get people back to work wherever possible. For example, a landscaper working alone could potentially return to work without violating distancing guidelines, Walz noted.

The governor also announced an executive order authorizing out-of-state providers to treat patients in Minnesota via telehealth. This practice is typically prohibited by licensing regulations. The executive order states that it will support Minnesotans who access healthcare in neighboring states, as well as those who have recently returned to Minnesota due to COVID-19, such as students who attend college out-of-state.

Carleton is currently facing the opposite problem—students who have left Minnesota are not eligible to access SHAC telehealth services. According to a page about spring break services on SHAC’s website, “Telehealth is not an option for students located outside of Minnesota due to state-specific licensing laws, but we can assist you in accessing local medical and counseling resources in your area.” At a Carleton webinar for parents on Friday, April 3, Dean Carolyn Livingston said that Carleton is looking for ways to make telehealth services available to as many students as possible.

Walz also noted that Minnesota has opened a hotline for reporting incidents of discrimination related to COVID-19, in light of reports of Asian-Americans being targeted in Minnesota. The state is also making efforts to support minority communities by translating new documents related to unemployment insurance into Hmong, Somali, and Spanish.

Larry Herke, Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs, continued by announcing that Minnesota veterans affected by COVID-19 can now apply for grants through his department. The state’s COVID-19 relief package includes $6.2 million to support veterans, he said.

Minnesota is now reporting 986 cases of COVID-19, with 30 deaths, according to Jan Malcolm, Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. There are 115 patients currently hospitalized for COVID-19, with 57 patients in intensive care.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reported that his team has identified space for more than 2,700 additional hospital beds at alternate sites around the state. Minnesota policymakers are creating plans for when and how these beds might be set up if hospital capacity is exceeded.

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Friday, April 3: Minnesota unveils COVID-19 online dashboard

During his daily COVID-19 update, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz discussed a new integrated Minnesota COVID-19 dashboard that went online today, designed to provide residents with state-specific information updated in real time.

The dashboard has two components, both of which can be accessed through the Minnesota COVID-19 webpage at mn.gov/covid19/. The first page provides statistics on cases in each county, hospitalizations, sources of exposure, age distribution, and fatalities. The second dashboard—focused on the state’s response to the virus—includes data on tests conducted, ICU and ventilator capacity, current supplies of personal protective equipment, and unemployment claims.

Walz declined to say whether Minnesota’s two-week stay-at-home order—set to expire on Friday, April 10—will be extended. However, he acknowledged the possibility that the order will be extended to conform with federal guidance prescribing social distancing through April 30.

Walz also commented on an order that President Trump issued on Thursday, April 2, which will require Minnesota-based manufacturing giant 3M to sell the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as many N95 masks as the agency requests. This order stems from the Defense Production Act, a wartime manufacturing measure that Trump invoked last week.

The governor expressed concern that although the federal government has urged states to leverage their own supply chains to acquire scarce supplies, this new order means that Minnesota can no longer look to in-state mask production at 3M, as these masks will be diverted to FEMA.

Walz said that he has not yet been in contact with Mike Roman, the CEO of 3M, following recent events. Trump lashed out against 3M on Twitter yesterday, while 3M issued a statement today criticizing the federal order that the company stop exporting masks to Canadian and Latin American markets, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

Jan Malcolm, commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), continued by emphasizing that Minnesotans may choose to wear cloth masks. Such masks would serve primarily to prevent the wearer from transmitting the virus to others, especially since COVID-19 can be transmitted while individuals are asymptomatic.

Malcolm emphasized that wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. In addition, medical-grade masks must be reserved for healthcare professionals. MDH has hesitated to prescribe cloth mask use for all Minnesotans due to the potential for misunderstanding these issues, Malcolm said.

Malcolm also spoke to the development of serology tests, which could be used to determine if an individual has previously had COVID-19. This could be helpful for tracking asymptomatic spread as well as immunity. Such a test is currently under development at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Paul Schnell, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, spoke about COVID-19 measures in the state correctional system. Early next week, stay-with-unit plans will be implemented in all Minnesota correctional facilities, he said. These plans will allow prisoners to have contact only with staff and others in their living unit.

Although Minnesota prisons and jails have taken steps such as screening staff and limiting visitors, other social distancing measures have not yet been applied, with many inmates still eating meals together in large numbers. Social distancing at meals will be increased next week, Schnell said, along with cloth mask distribution. He emphasized the difficulty of social distancing while avoiding inhumane practices such as keeping inmates locked in their cells indefinitely.

The Department of Corrections is looking at early release for candidates serving sentences for non-violent crimes who are within 90 days of release, Schnell said. The department will also explore how conditional medical release—a Minnesota legal provision that can be used to release inmates with “grave” medical conditions—might be applied under COVID-19. Historically, the provision has been used primarily in end-of-life situations, according to Schnell.

Two Minnesota correctional facilities have positive cases, with testing pending at two other facilities. One site, Moose Lake, has seven confirmed cases and a total of 13 cases presumed positive due to symptoms.

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Thursday, April 2: Minnesota K-12 students unlikely to return to school this spring

The chances that Minnesota K-12 students will return to school this spring are “relatively slim,” Governor Tim Walz told the public during his daily COVID-19 update. School buildings are currently closed through at least May 4. 

Carleton College has yet to announce whether students will return to campus on May 4 for the last five weeks of the term. Federal guidelines are currently prescribing social distancing measures through at least April 30.

Steve Kelley, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, continued by announcing that Minnesota health insurance plans have agreed to waive cost-sharing for testing and hospitalization related to COVID-19 through at least May 31. 

The agreement currently applies to in-network care only, but Walz and Kelley said they will continue to work with the plans if the crisis requires many Minnesotans to be hospitalized out-of-network.

Minnesota is currently reporting 742 cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths. Eleven of these deaths have occurred among long-term care facility residents, according to Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann.

In the interest of public health, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will release the names of long-term care facilities above a certain size that have reported at least one COVID-19 case, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Forty-seven long-term care facilities in Minnesota have reported at least one case. Of these 47 facilities, 11 are reporting multiple cases, according to Malcolm. She stressed that both residents and workers in congregate care facilities should be prioritized for COVID-19 testing.

Governor Walz continued by responding to concerns from the press that social distancing measures are not being adequately implemented in Minnesota prisons and jails. The state is considering measures to accelerate the release of prisoners who are within 30 to 60 days of their release time, Walz said, in an effort to reduce the number of inmates.

Walz also mentioned that at the request of Minnesota hospitals, the state will explore possible licensing measures for healthcare professionals from out of state who wish to work in Minnesota during the pandemic.

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Wednesday, April 1: Supply shortages remain dire despite federal assurances

During the daily Minnesota COVID-19 briefing, Governor Tim Walz and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm spoke about continued shortages of testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Requests to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have often failed to result in new shipments, Malcolm said. According to Walz, federal reassurances about testing and PPE remain at odds with state officials’ experiences on the ground. Minnesota companies and laboratories are stepping up to manufacture supplies, but they too are finding that key components are on backorder.

The state is currently reporting 689 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths. Among confirmed cases, the median age is 47, Malcolm said.

Minnesota is also reporting its first COVID-19 case within the state prison system after an individual at Moose Lake Correctional Facility tested positive, according to Malcolm. The state is working directly with Moose Lake to respond to the case and isolate the individual.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly noted that many people are offering to sew homemade masks in face of the PPE shortage. Although such cloth masks are not adequate for healthcare providers on the frontlines, Kelly said, they may help prevent infectious individuals from spreading the disease, as well as helping to protect healthy individuals. Because COVID-19 is spread primarily by droplets, a cloth mask could provide good “source control” for an infectious person, Kelly explained.

Increased use of cloth masks in congregate living facilities could help prevent asymptomatic individuals from spreading the virus within these vulnerable communities. Kelly encouraged Minnesotans who sew masks to distribute them locally to transit workers, the elderly, caregivers, incarcerated individuals, and jail employees, as well as to hospital employees who do not work directly with patients. 

Cloth mask usage is currently prioritized for individuals in congregate care facilities and lower-risk healthcare positions, said Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresman. However, according to Malcolm, it would “not be overprotective” for any individual to wear such a mask when they leave the house. FDA-grade masks, such as N95 masks, should be diverted solely to frontline healthcare workers.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove continued by noting that his office has seen an increased number of applications from healthcare workers, as procedures like elective surgeries and dental check-ups have been halted. Grove encouraged these individuals to consider applying for jobs in other areas of healthcare that are in critical need of workers.

Grove said that those who apply for unemployment insurance can expect a check within one to two weeks. The benefits will be backdated to the date that the individual was separated from their pay, he said. 

In face of the worsening nationwide crisis, Walz said that he will make a decision next week about whether Minnesota’s stay-at-home order will be extended. The governor is not currently considering any type of increased enforcement beyond a stay-at-home order.

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Tuesday, March 31: Minnesota identifies alternative sites for medical care

During the daily Minnesota COVID-19 press conference, State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly outlined plans to identify alternate sites for medical care, as projections indicate that COVID-19 is likely to overwhelm the state’s healthcare capacity. Minnesota is currently reporting 629 cases and 12 deaths due to COVID-19.

According to Kelly, the Alternate Care Site Planning Team has identified five sites throughout the state that could accommodate up to 600 beds. His team hopes to eventually identify 2,750 beds, including 1,000 in the Twin Cities metro area and 1,750 in Greater Minnesota.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove provided an update on demographic information for unemployment insurance applicants. He noted that 38% of applicants since March 16 hold a high school diploma or less, while 41% have some college or an associate’s degree. The state has seen 255,000 applications since March 16.

Heather Mueller, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education, announced that statewide standardized testing requirements for K-12 students have been waived. This means that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) will not be administered. 

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Monday, March 30: Distance learning begins for Minnesota K-12 students

After the first weekend of the state stay-at-home order, Minnesota is reporting 576 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, Governor Tim Walz said in his daily COVID-19 update.  

Thirty-one congregate care facilities—a category that includes sites such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters—have reported at least one case, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. As soon as one case is reported, the state immediately begins working with that facility to implement an action plan.

Minnesota students grades K-12 began online classes today through the state’s distance learning program. This follows an eight-day planning period for educators that began on March 18. Many schools served meals and offered childcare during this time, according to Heather Mueller, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education.

Walz reported that Minnesotans appear to be taking the stay-at-home order seriously. Throughout the month of March, traffic flow has dropped more than 70% in the state, he said. 

Walz clarified that essential employees who are immunocompromised, or otherwise at high risk for contracting COVID-19, should not report to work. In response to reports that some employers are still requiring such employees to work, Walz encouraged affected workers to contact state offices to report a breach of the stay-at-home order. The state intends to enforce the order if necessary, he said.  

The governor also acknowledged that the stay-at-home order presents challenges for victims of domestic violence. Over the weekend, two-thirds of police calls were related to domestic violence, he said. Walz reiterated that the order encourages residents to leave their homes if their living situation is unsafe. Domestic violence shelters are essential services and will remain open.

The state continues to prioritize the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) by working with Minnesota companies and investigating new supply chains. State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly told residents that they can donate PPE at several Salvation Army locations statewide. 

Kelly also mentioned that blood banks are facing shortages. He encouraged Minnesotans to donate blood, noting that facilities have taken steps to ensure the safety of donors.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove continued by announcing a new system to streamline unemployment insurance applications, as the state faces an unprecedented application volume. Residents will now be asked to apply on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday based on the last digit of their Social Security number. Thursday and Friday will be open to all applicants. 

Grove said that Minnesota has received more unemployment insurance applications since March 16 than it did in all of 2019. He encouraged Minnesotans in search of work to look into critical industries—such as nursing, personal care services, and security services—that are currently hiring in large numbers.

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Friday, March 27: Statewide stay-at-home order goes into effect tonight

Minnesota is set to enter into a stay-at-home order this evening at 11:59 pm in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The state is currently reporting 398 cases and four deaths from the virus. 

All fatalities have been among individuals in their 80’s, according to Jan Malcolm, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. The two most recent deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, Governor Tim Walz reported in his daily COVID-19 update. 

Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann noted that 17 congregate living facilities in Minnesota have seen at least one case. These communal facilities, especially those housing elderly individuals, are particularly susceptible to the spread of disease. 

The state has set up teams to work directly with these facilities to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and communicate protocol for isolating cases. In an ideal world, Ehresmann noted, all staff at such facilities would wear masks even when no case had been detected at that site. This would prevent the virus from spreading from staff to residents. However, due to the significant shortage of PPE, these measures are currently impossible, she said.

The governor also signed an executive order allowing medical licensing boards to modify requirements to get more healthcare professionals on the front lines. This measure will not “cut corners” for licensing, but will instead speed up processes, Walz said.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly continued by reminding the public that questions about COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order should be addressed through state websites and COVID-19 hotlines, rather than by calling 911. Emergency lines have been unsafely tied up by a large volume of non-emergency calls related to the virus, Kelly said.

With respect to education, Heather Mueller confirmed that the state’s distance learning program is set to begin on Monday, March 30. Minnesota public schools serving grades K-12 have been closed since March 18 by the governor’s order. Many schools have served meals to children in need throughout this time, as well as offering childcare for the children of emergency workers.

Walz also noted that he expects to grant extensions for Minnesotans to renew driver’s licenses and ID cards, since Driver and Vehicle Services offices will be closed during the stay-at-home. Residents can still renew their vehicle registration online during this time. Walz also reminded Minnesotans that the national deadline to obtain a Real ID has been pushed back to September 2021.

In recent days, Walz noted, Minnesota has seen a 49% decrease in traffic accidents, suggesting that orders to stay home are being taken seriously.

_____________________

Thursday, March 26: Walz provides clarification of stay-at-home order

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, in his daily COVID-19 update, offered clarification of the stay-at-home order set to begin on Friday, March 26 at 11:59 pm. “All Minnesotans are encouraged to voluntarily comply with this executive order,” the governor said. 

Walz emphasized that no one will be asked to carry papers or show a note of where they are going. Law enforcement will serve as “an education piece” when it comes to enforcing the order, he said.

The governor also informed the public of a second death from COVID-19 in Minnesota. There are now 346 cases statewide. Although the cases are largely concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area and the surrounding counties, Walz defended his decision to implement a stay-at-home order for the entire state. The measure ensures a “universal standard,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Rice County—where Carleton is located—is reporting two cases of COVID-19. Neighboring Dakota County is reporting 25 cases.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm discouraged the public from traveling to rural areas of Minnesota for outdoor recreation. Rural counties with minimal healthcare infrastructure could easily become overwhelmed by the introduction of COVID-19, she explained.

Walz also took time to address reports of discrimination against Minnesota residents of Asian or Pacific Islander descent related to COVID-19. The governor condemned these occurrences and encouraged anyone who experiences a hate crime to report it to the state.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly continued by clarifying the measures Minnesota will take to increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. The additional ICU beds will be located exclusively in hospitals, Kelly said. Capacity will be increased, for example, by reclaiming areas typically used for elective surgeries, which have been temporarily halted due to COVID-19.

The state plans to establish alternate facilities to house non-critical care—for example, a patient recovering with a broken arm. Recently closed hospitals and nursing homes are the first choice for this purpose, Kelly said. The state would then consider other facilities with individual rooms, such as dormitories. An open public space—such as a sports arena or convention center—could be used as a last resort.

With respect to the economy, Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that 5.9% of the Minnesota labor force has applied for unemployment insurance within the past week. Among workers affected by closures due to COVID-19, about 60% have access to some form of paid leave, Grove said.

Grove encouraged employees and businesses to visit mn.gov/deed/critical if they have questions about whether their services are defined as “essential” under the new stay-at-home order. Businesses can also fill out an inquiry form and receive a response within 24 hours, he said.

_____________________

Wednesday, March 25: Walz institutes stay-at-home order

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, set to take effect at 11:59 pm on Friday, March 27. The stay-at-home is planned to extend for two weeks until Friday, April 10. Walz also announced that restaurant closures are extended to May 1 and school closures to May 4.

The governor emphasized that residents may continue to leave their homes to engage in essential activities such as buying groceries, obtaining medical services, getting gas, and caring for others. Outdoor activities are permitted as long as social distancing is practiced. The order also makes allowances for homeless individuals and those who must relocate to ensure their own safety, including victims of domestic violence. 

Minnesotans employed in essential services that cannot be performed remotely are permitted to leave their homes to work. This includes those employed in healthcare, childcare, law enforcement, the food and agriculture sector, financial services, faith-related services, education, and news services. 

Also included in the essential services category are critical segments of sectors such as legal services, construction and repair work, transportation, social services, energy, manufacturing, and state and local government. The work of federal employees is not affected by the order. Walz noted that these essential services make up about 78% of employment in the state.

The governor explained that the order will not decrease the eventual infection rate, but will instead buy the state time to prepare for an influx of patients requiring critical care. According to the models used by Walz and his team, about 2.4 million Minnesotans are expected to eventually contract COVID-19, whether or not a shelter-in-place order is implemented. About 85% of these individuals will recover at home, 15% will be hospitalized, and 5% will require critical care, the governor said.

The state models predict that with no mitigation efforts, COVID-19 could result in 74,000 deaths statewide. In that scenario, Walz said, Minnesota would reach its peak infection rate in nine weeks, with intensive care unit (ICU) capacity being reached after only six weeks. 

At the peak, 6,000 ICU beds would be required statewide. Minnesota currently has a total of 235 ICU beds. Without an ICU bed, a COVID-19 patient’s chance of death increases tenfold, Walz explained.

The governor’s team anticipates that the two-week stay-at-home will move the peak infection date out by five weeks. This will give the state time to increase critical care capacity, an intensive effort that may involve converting stadiums to hospitals, Walz said. 

That time will also be used to acquire sufficient personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and to gather information about which residents should continue to remain at home, such as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.

Walz noted that the two-week period could be extended if manufacturing capacity falls short of what is expected. However, he said he will make all efforts to limit the stay-at-home to two weeks to mitigate economic damage.

The governor also explained that he is working with neighboring states to assess how interstate travel could affect the order’s implementation. Wisconsin has instituted a stay-at-home order, but North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa have not. Travel in and out of Minnesota is permitted under Walz’s order.

According to the text of the order, a person who “willfully violates” the order is guilty of a misdemeanour and, if convicted, may be punished with a fine of less than $1,000 or imprisonment for less than 90 days. 

However, the order also urges Minnesotans to “voluntarily comply” and stresses that the order is not intended to encourage or allow law enforcement to transgress individual constitutional rights. Walz repeatedly stated that he was “asking” Minnesotans to comply.

The text of the stay-at-home order — known as Emergency Executive Order 20-20 — can be accessed from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library at https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-20.pdf. This document also includes guidelines from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, offering further details about which positions are considered essential services.

_____________________

Tuesday, March 24: Walz declines to institute stay-at-home order at this time

In his daily address to Minnesotans on Tuesday, March 24, Gov. Tim Walz again declined to institute a stay-at-home order for the state. Statewide closures for schools, restaurants, and bars will remain in place, Walz said. Minnesota is now reporting 262 cases of COVID-19, but because testing has been limited, the true number is likely to be much higher.

Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove reported that Minnesota has received almost 150,000 applications for unemployment insurance in the past week. Over 48,000 of these applications came from the food services industry.  

Minnesotans ages 22-29 are the largest age group represented in the new applications, making up over 20% of all applicants. With respect to educational attainment, those who have had some college, but fewer than four years, make up the largest share of applicants.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly reminded listeners that the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is operating two COVID-19 public hotlines, one for medical questions and one for questions related to schools and childcare. The hotlines are accessible through the MDH website.

Kelly is also working with a team to examine options for expanding healthcare capacity for the critically ill. This could involve setting up additional intensive care unit beds outside of hospitals, such as in a motel or a gymnasium, Kelly said.

_____________________

Monday, March 23: Walz announces new executive orders for COVID-19 crisis

At his daily COVID-19 press conference on Monday, March 23, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and his team announced several new executive orders designed to provide both economic and medical support to Minnesotans.

The economic consequences of the pandemic are becoming increasingly visible, with 123,000 Minnesotans applying for unemployment insurance within the past week, according to Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove. Walz’s first executive order aims to offer some economic relief by placing a moratorium on evictions.

The governor also reported the establishment of a state emergency loan program designed to provide immediate relief to small businesses and independent contractors. According to Grove, businesses can apply for loans between $2,500 and $35,000, all of which are 50% forgivable. In addition, Minnesota is now eligible to participate in the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program, which will give small businesses access to additional funds from the federal government.

With respect to healthcare, Walz issued an executive order asking non-medical facilities in possession of personal protective equipment (PPE) to take inventory of their stock. In a further effort to preserve PPE, the final executive order will halt elective veterinary surgeries.

The state made progress over the weekend in mobilizing supply chains to increase the availability of both PPE and COVID-19 testing. Additional stock of medical supplies was received from the federal government over the weekend, Walz said. Meanwhile, Minnesota performed 982 tests on Sunday, reducing the testing backlog to about 80 samples—down from a backlog of almost 1,300 samples on Friday afternoon. This testing brought Minnesota to a total of 235 COVID-19 cases, Walz reported.

State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly explained that the National Guard has been mobilized to assist with the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, Kelly said, his office is looking to set up a system to coordinate volunteer and donation effort in Minnesota communities. Walz also noted that the state tax deadline has been extended to July 15 to correspond with the federal extended deadline.

Walz declined to issue a stay-at-home order to Minnesotans, but reiterated that the option remains on the table. He noted that the Minnesota Department of Health is working with the University of Minnesota on COVID-19 modelling efforts to inform policy-making.

Among other Midwestern states, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin have all announced stay-at-home orders to take effect early this week. Illinois has been under such an order since Saturday. Nationwide, over a dozen states will have a stay-at-home order in place by Wednesday.

Walz himself is currently self-isolating at home after coming into contact with an individual who later tested positive for COVID-19. The governor is currently reporting no symptoms.


_____________________

Friday, March 20: Gov. Walz addresses Minnesotans on COVID-19, testing largely unavailable to Carleton students in Minnesota

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz addressed the public on the topic of COVID-19 on the afternoon of Friday, March 20, with similar press conferences now slated to take place each weekday at 2:00 pm CST. Walz was joined by State Emergency Management Director Joe Kelly, Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development Steve Grove, and Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), among others. 

Minnesota was reporting 137 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday, March 21, with 48 new cases added since Wednesday. One of these new cases is in Rice County, where Carleton is located. The first COVID-19 death in the state was confirmed by the MDH on Saturday, March 21.

The Minnesota patients range in age from 17 to 94 years old, Ehresmann said. Eight of these patients have required hospitalization.

According to Walz, the state is struggling to increase testing due to shortages of reagents necessary to run the samples once test kits have been collected. There were 1,291 samples awaiting testing at the MDH as of Friday afternoon, Walz said. 

About 4,000 COVID-19 tests have been performed in Minnesota to date. According to data from the COVID Tracking Project and the US Census Bureau, Minnesota ranks 18th among US states for number of tests performed per capita. California, New York, and Washington account for nearly half of all tests performed in the United States.

Minnesota has implemented measures to prioritize who qualifies for a test. Testing is currently limited to hospitalized patients, ill healthcare workers, and ill residents of long-term care facilities, according to the MDH website. This means that COVID-19 testing is currently largely unavailable to Carleton students staying on campus and elsewhere in Minnesota. 

Individuals who begin to feel ill but are ineligible for testing are encouraged to self-isolate and avoid seeking care if their symptoms are mild, Ehresmann said. These individuals are not included in the state’s official count of COVID-19 cases.

Addressing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is another top priority for Walz and his team. This week, Walz halted elective surgery procedures to preserve PPE supplies. The state is searching for additional PPE supply chains in collaboration with Minnesota businesses and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The governor outlined several additional measures taken in recent days to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The state activated the Medical Reserve Corps, which will bring healthcare professionals out of retirement to address critical medical needs. Walz also asked the federal government to provide funding to activate the Minnesota National Guard to combat the pandemic. Finally, the governor issued an executive order banning price gouging, which will prevent sellers from charging severely inflated prices for scarce products such as hand sanitizer.

With regard to the economic consequences of the pandemic, Grove said that the State Unemployment Insurance Program had received over 94,000 applications as of Thursday evening. The previous record for the number of applicants in a single week was 18,000. Roughly 85% of those who applied have never been on unemployment insurance before, Grove said. The state is also exploring ways to assist those who are ineligible for unemployment insurance.

In response to an audience question, Walz stated that shopping-mall closures may be on the horizon. The governor has not implemented a shelter-in-place order in Minnesota, but did not rule out the possibility for the future. As of Saturday, March 21, measures of this type had already been implemented in California, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The post Gov. Walz announces phased reopening strategy, sparks controversy with legislators, nurses and churches appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

“I’ve Got Enough of That”: COVID in the Classroom, Part One

Carletonian - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 8:29am

COVID-19 is many things: a public health crisis, a revealer of social inequality, a life-changing personal experience. But to Daniel Groll, Associate Professor of Philosophy and chair of the department, it’s also been an educational opportunity.

This term, Groll is teaching a 200-level philosophy class called Topics in Medical Ethics. During the extended spring break, he completely redesigned his twenty-four person course in order to make it relevant to COVID-19. Greta Hardy-Mittell ’23 Zoomed with Groll to discuss the work that went into redesigning his course, dealing with difficult philosophical questions in the classroom, and what he’s learned for the future.

Greta Hardy-Mittell: Let’s talk about Medical Ethics. I’ve heard from friends in the class that it was all about COVID-19 for the first two weeks. 

Daniel Groll: Yeah. We did pandemic ethics, which is not something I was planning to do at all. The first week was on triage decisions and distributing scarce resources during a pandemic, with a focus on who should get ventilators and why. Then the second week was on healthcare workers—not just doctors and nurses, but also front of office staff or people who clean hospitals—whether they have a duty to continue working during a pandemic and why.

So the first two weeks were all on COVID-19, for better or for worse. In the evaluations I got after the first couple of weeks, there were a couple of people who were like, “I would like to not think about COVID-19, because we’re all thinking about it all the time.” But it seemed foolish not to talk about it at all in a Medical Ethics class.

GH: Yeah. Definitely being a student during this time, there are some mixed emotions. Because on one hand, it seems silly not to be thinking about relevant topics, but on the other hand, there are times when I want to think about anything but COVID-19.

DG: Totally.

GH: How did you handle that balance in the classroom?

DG: One thing I did is just foreground right up front that the topic could be extremely personal for some people depending on the situation they were in. Especially at the beginning of the term—there’s still uncertainty, but there was an even more profound uncertainty then, where we weren’t sure whether we’d all end up looking like New York. And, you know, some of my students are in New York. So you foreground it by saying that everyone should bear in mind that some people might be living this. They might be ill, their family members might be ill, or they might have parents who are frontline healthcare workers. 

And then, the only other thing was: we spent two weeks on it, and then we moved on. I would not have wanted to do an entire class on it, although I could imagine that.

GH: I wonder if, in the future, there will be entire classes on it.

DG: Right. I don’t think I’m betraying confidences, but there are all kinds of discussions about what’s going to happen next year, including interesting questions about whether portions of the curriculum could be focused on this real life issue that we’re all dealing with.

And I’m kind of with you. For some people, sometimes, they think ‘yes! I want to do more of that!’ And then there are other times, with other people, or even the same person, saying ‘no, no, no. I’ve got enough of that.’ I want to focus on this other thing that has nothing to do with it.

GH: Is that something that comes up normally in philosophy classes? Because philosophy does deal with pretty difficult subjects sometimes. 

DG: It can. I teach an A&I on family ethics, and we talk about adoption, whether there’s a duty to adopt, and how to think of genetic relatedness or non-genetic relatedness in the family. So that’s another case where you want to make everyone aware that what’s maybe an abstract or intellectual issue for you might be deeply personal for someone else. So you’re right—I think it’s often present. In this case, it’s just present to a heightened degree for basically everybody, in some form.

GH: What about the process of redeveloping the course, both in the three-week break and at the beginning of the course?

DG: That took a lot of work. A lot of mental work, of figuring out how to put something together online that’s good—that’s good enough—especially on short notice. One thing I ran into, and I think my colleagues would agree, is that you can give yourself a huge amount of work. Especially because my wife is a frontline healthcare worker, so she’s now working 45-50 hours a week. I have two kids, and there’s a program in Northfield for the children of healthcare workers, and that’s amazing. But that wasn’t running for the first few weeks. So thinking about how to put together a course while I was at home with the kids was like—I can’t spend twice as much time on one course as I normally would. I can’t do that anyway, but I definitely can’t do that if I’ve got two kids at home. 

Trying to find the balance where students felt like they were getting a good course without it being completely overwhelming for me or the students—that was hard. But I’m doing stuff now that I actually wonder, maybe I should be doing this all the time anyway. I’m recording lectures, but they don’t explain the papers. They set up the paper and then ask very particular questions to the students that they can use while going through the papers. So it’s like a guided reading.

I also broke the class into four groups, so instead of trying to meet all at once, I meet with each group for about an hour a week, but then they meet without me two other times. I think it was helpful to give up on the idea that we’re a class of twenty-four. We’re kind of like four six-person tutorials instead, and that’s kind of cool. In some ways, it makes people participate more.

GH: Outside of the classroom, in terms of your research interests, has this changed anything?

DG: It hasn’t changed what I’m doing my research on, because I’m in the middle of writing a book, but it ground my research to a complete and total standstill. When this hit, I stopped doing anything on my book, and I’m now just starting to get back to it, because I feel like I’ve gotten my head above water in terms of where I need to be for the term. 

And I’m only teaching one course. If I were teaching two courses — boy. Things would look really different. And if I didn’t have childcare — I don’t even know what it would look like.

My colleagues and I have been prepping like mad. My sense is that almost none of us are thinking, ‘This term’s a write-off. I’m just gonna phone it in.’ People are working really hard to make the courses as compelling as they can be.

GH:  I’m thinking that if we are online next fall, we have a head start as a trimester school that has already done this—already designed classes from scratch. How do you think Carleton has been different than schools who were interrupted midway through the term? 

DG: I think we all just had time to take a breath, and say: okay. Something really different is going to happen. We had time to wrap our heads around that. Even though it wasn’t a lot of time, the fact that there was a distinct break gave us time to do some thinking. I wouldn’t have been able to do that over a weekend.

I don’t know anything that you don’t know, but I think everyone is thinking this might not just be a one-term thing. There’s a pretty good chance we’re not all going to be on campus in the fall. So that inevitably makes one think, well, what would I do differently? I think people have learned a lot. We are in a better position for having done it this term, for sure.

The post “I’ve Got Enough of That”: COVID in the Classroom, Part One appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

Diary of a “successful” Carleton student: Why we need to broaden our understanding of mental illness and academic accommodations

Carletonian - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 10:05pm

September 17, 2018 (first term at Carleton): I love this so much. I am thriving. 

October 3, 2018: This is really challenging, but that’s why I’m here… 

November 4, 2018: Everyone is grinding all day every day, right? And I’m doing well in my classes, so I must be doing this right. 

November 5, 2018: Turns out none of my friends “grind” quite like I do (i.e., as inefficiently as I do). Turns out the reading that took me four hours took everyone else in the class about two. 

November 8, 2018: I’m just really thorough with my assignments. Nothing wrong with that. I’m a good student. 

January 21, 2019: Had another panic attack. Took my emergency med, barely got through the bio exam, and crashed.  

April 9, 2019: FINALLY finished that chapter and checked the clock. Wished I hadn’t. 

May 17, 2019: Attended a Disability Services talk. Considered reaching out to get some sort of accommodations. Remembered I didn’t have a learning disability. Didn’t reach out. 

March 11, 2020: Could not even imagine getting through finals. Called the Dean of Students Office on the verge of tears. Got an appointment a few hours later with Dean Baggot.

Later on March 11, 2020: Asked Dean Baggot for extensions on my final papers. (Well, I did a lot more crying than asking. I wasn’t even embarrassed.) He was very supportive and granted the extensions. 

April 4, 2020: Spring term is about to start. I don’t know if I can do this again. I reach out to Disability Services. 

April 5, 2020: Spoke on the phone with Chris Dallager who encouraged me to submit a First Time Accommodation Request

April 6, 2020: I’m hesitant and indecisive… and exhausted. Can’t decide if it’s worth putting in the energy just to not get any accommodations. 

April 7, 2020: Realized I was desperate. Filled out the form. 

April 13, 2020: Reached out to my provider to send documentation to Disability Services. 

April 29, 2020: Received an email from Disability Services confirming receipt of accommodations (and confirming that I really did need help, and could’ve gotten it, all along). 

May 21, 2020: I still have not used these accommodations. I don’t know if it’s because of the nature of online classes or if this mandatory S/CR/NC (and global pandemic) has finally granted me the space to put my mental health first… 

___________________

All of this is to say: PLEASE do not be me. Please do not delay asking for and receiving the help you need. If you are struggling academically, consider reaching out to Disability Services even if you do not consider yourself disabled. Disability Services not only supports students with learning disabilities and ADHD but also students with psychiatric or psychological and medical or physical conditions. (This topic was discussed in a recent Carletonian article about the Disability Services office.) Regarding the office’s coming name change, I know that some Carls identify with the term “disability,” and I respect that, but I also know that the name “Disability Services” can be a barrier that prevents eligible individuals from reaching out, like it did for me.

I also want to communicate that my experience is not what success looks like, and we need to stop being told that it is. Many seem to forget that an “impressive” GPA is not always cause for celebration. At a place like Carleton, where many students find it incredibly difficult to take care of themselves and keep up with their classes, a 4.0 GPA can actually be cause for concern. It can indicate a choice to place academics above all else, including one’s own well-being. When Carleton puts my name on the Dean’s List, when my family applauds my “hard work,” they’re telling me that I’m doing something right and that I should keep it up. 

This results-driven narrative of success, and the behaviors it motivates in myself and my peers, prevented me from realizing I needed help for so long. It seemed like everyone around me was sacrificing aspects of their well-being for the sake of academic performance. As a community, we must work on promoting healthier norms and celebrating the success in prioritizing ourselves.

Additionally, it’s important we understand that academic “success” and academic struggles are not mutually exclusive. This is obvious to some, but I think it’s worth saying that a high GPA does not necessarily suggest that one doesn’t need accommodations or some extra support. For me, this looks like assignments that take hours longer than most of my peers. It’s wearing earplugs and moving my desk to face a wall during exams because my brain stops working when I hear pencils scratching or see people moving. It’s not understanding what I’m being taught until I can make my own visual for it. It’s suffering through classes with anxiety and migraines and having to go to office hours to go through the material again. It’s having a panic attack that prevents me from doing schoolwork the rest of the day and having to work overtime the next couple of days to make up for it. I’m sharing all of this in an attempt to communicate that everyone’s struggles and everyone’s needs look different. And that many of those struggles are less obvious, especially in those considered successful by our grading system. 

As I reflect on the challenges facing every individual during COVID-19, I realize that this is the first time many of our professors have told us that we should be putting our well-being first. As wonderfully supportive as that is, let’s not have a pandemic be the only reason to take care of ourselves and check in on each other. And let’s not abandon that position once we get back on campus. 

We will always be humans before we are students, and we cannot sustainably succeed as students without first ensuring our well-being. That being said, now is a great time to take care of ourselves and develop habits for supporting our well-being. Check out the Mental Health Awareness Collective’s (MHAC) quarantine activity ideas, and consider reaching out to an affordable online therapy service like BetterHelp

Additionally, here are some resources for those in crisis: 

  • Text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor 24/7

Finally, if you’re interested in encouraging understanding and openness about mental health at Carleton, consider joining MHAC (Mental Health Awareness Collective). We are meeting this term (and possibly into the summer) and would love to see some new faces. Please feel free to reach out to me for more information. Be well.

The post Diary of a “successful” Carleton student: Why we need to broaden our understanding of mental illness and academic accommodations appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

Arb Notes: Saved by the Bellwort

Carletonian - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 6:55pm

Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) is a native wildflower of Minnesota, with large, yellow, conical, pendant flowers. It gets its common and scientific names from the shape of its flowers, which resemble bells (if you have ever seen a bell before) or uvulas (if you have an overactive imagination or an obsession with uvulas).

Bellwort has many medicinal uses, and was frequently used by the Ojibwe, Forest Potawatomi, and pioneers for a range of different ailments. It was a key ingredient in treatments for snakebites and was also used to reduce swellings and alleviate skin inflammation. You might worry that bellwort would get a metaphorical sore back from figuratively carrying the pre-modern medical industry, but that wasn’t a problem since it was used as a cure for backaches too—as well as to generally alleviate soreness in the muscles and tendons.

Some Europeans followed a medical philosophy called the Doctrine of Signatures, which assumed a plant’s shape to indicate its use. Thinking that the bellwort flower looked like a uvula, they attempted to utilize it as a cure for sore throats and other throat diseases. Shockingly, this was unsuccessful—probably since it doesn’t actually look like a uvula. In my expert medical opinion, they should have tried to use it to fix the liberty bell or something, since that is what it clearly much more closely resembles. The roots, leaves, and uppers stems can be cooked and eaten for a little bit of nourishment if you are in a real jam, but don’t expect it to cure your sore throat unless you mix it with some herbal tea with honey and acetaminophen. Note, though, that we like the bellwort that we have in the Arb, so please don’t eat it—it probably doesn’t taste that great anyway.

The post Arb Notes: Saved by the Bellwort appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

The Hill From A Distance: The not-virtual world

St. Olaf College - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 9:00am
Each week our new blog series, The Hill From A Distance, will feature a message from a campus leader — and this week President David R. Anderson '74 reflects on how the physical world around us has taken on more meaning in a virtual world.
Categories: Colleges

Seven Oles win Fulbright fellowships

St. Olaf College - Wed, 05/20/2020 - 1:59pm
Seven St. Olaf College seniors and recent graduates have been awarded Fulbright fellowships for 2020–21.
Categories: Colleges

A look at dorm life at St. Olaf

Manitou Messenger - Tue, 05/19/2020 - 10:02pm

Throughout the spring of 2020, Teague Peterson-McGuire, Video Journalist for the Messenger created a series of videos about dorm life at St. Olaf. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the series remains incomplete at this time.

Below is a playlist of the completed videos:

Categories: Colleges

The Last Lecture

St. Olaf College - Tue, 05/19/2020 - 11:54am
Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro explains the tradition of the Last Lecture at St. Olaf on the latest episode of the college podcast From the Hill to Real Life. Join us for a virtual Last Lecture on May 21, 2020.
Categories: Colleges

Celebrating the Class of 2020

St. Olaf College - Mon, 05/18/2020 - 9:40am
As the senior class graduates this week, more than 700 incredible Oles will take their first steps in the real world — giving their best to make it a better place. Join us in celebrating the Class of 2020!
Categories: Colleges

Institute hosts faculty seminar on U.S.-China relations

St. Olaf College - Mon, 05/18/2020 - 9:23am
Before the spread of COVID-19 halted the Institute for Freedom & Community’s spring lecture series on U.S.-China Relations, St. Olaf College faculty and staff met to engage in interdisciplinary discussions on China today under Xi Jinping.
Categories: Colleges

Disability Services looks to update name, asks student body for input

Carletonian - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 9:49am

Disability Services, a branch of the Division of Student Life, works to provide Carleton students with equitable access to academic, social, technological and physical elements of campus life. And while the office works closely with students who have documented disabilities, “disability” as a nominal term has come into question in recent years. At Carleton, the term might not best represent the office’s mission and range of services. 

With that in mind, the office is looking to change its name.

“I think Disability Services is an adequate name, in that it’s something that most people approaching college who need accommodations are familiar with,” said Chris Dallager, Director of Disability Services. “So it’s traditional. It’s a name that the vast majority of colleges and universities had or still have.”

But in recent years, there’s been a movement at colleges across the country to reconsider the language within the name, explained Dallager.

“For some people, the word ‘disability’ is important,” said Dallager. “And if you take ‘disability’ as a word out of the name, there could be a concern that you’re not really saying what you are, what you work with.” 

“But on the other hand, there are a lot of students at Carleton who need and qualify for the resources that our office can provide, but they don’t think of themselves as having a disability,” he continued. “And the word feels heavy, or too big. And so some students don’t even think about coming to the office, because that word just doesn’t fit them. So, if the name of the office is getting in the way of meeting the needs of the students on campus, that’s a concern.” 

Dallager has had a name change in mind since he started at Carleton, in 2016. “But I’ve held back a little bit, because there’s this tension,” he said. “I don’t want to erase a sense of identity for people who find disability to be a central part of who they are. To take ‘disability’ out of the name has that potential impact, and I don’t want to do that. On the other hand, I also have found a more frequent problem at Carleton, of the people who avoid coming to the office because ‘disability’ doesn’t seem to fit their sense of what they’re dealing with.”

Before coming to Carleton, Dallager previously worked at the University of Minnesota, Morris. There, his office changed its name from Disability Services to Disability Resource Center in 2014. 

Other recent name changes include Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College, both of which now have “Accessibility Services” offices. Middlebury has an “Disability Resource Center,” and Georgetown has a “Disability Support Office.” At Williams, the office is called the “Office of Accessible Education.”

“I think each school needs to look at their own culture to figure out what the name means to the students on that campus,” said Dallager. 

To gather student feedback about the office’s name, Disability Services had originally planned to do tabling in Sayles during Spring term. Instead, for the remote term, the office released an online survey, which was publicized via Facebook and email lists the first week of May.

The survey presented four name options: “Accessibility Resource(s) Office,” “Student Disability Access Office,” “Disability Resource Center” and the current name. 

Respondents rated each name on a five-point scale. “Accessibility Resource(s) Office” received the most support, with 74% of respondents rating it favorably (a score of four or five). “Disability Resource Center” ranked second, with 47% favorable ratings, 26% unfavorable and 27% neutral. 

Results for “Disability Services,” the office’s current name, were evenly divided. “Student Disability Access Office” was not popular, with only 7% of respondents rating it favorably. 

The survey received 133 responses in two days, said Dallager. The majority of responses came in within three days, but the survey remains open

The initiation of this name-change process for Disability Services comes less than a month after the Title IX office, now called Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, officially changed its name

“I did talk to the Title IX office to hear a bit about how they ran their survey,” said Disability Services peer leader Rebecca Margolis ’21. “But it was a coincidence that it happened at the same time.” 

Disability Services’ six peer leaders had a large hand in designing the survey. As to write-in survey responses, “there are two different camps,” said Eve Chesivoir ’20, Disability Services peer leader. “There are people who want the disability label and people who don’t. I think both of those arguments are completely valid.”

“A lot of people use Disability Services for a variety of mental health issues, or injuries,” noted Chesivoir. “And they wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves disabled. But these people actually would really benefit from the services, but they might not even think to go to our office, because they don’t have a ‘disability.’” 

“My sophomore year, I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues,” she continued. “I had dealt with stuff like that for a long time, but I didn’t consider myself as having a disability, necessarily. And I was told by my counselor at SHAC that if I got in touch with Disability Services, they could talk with me about getting an emotional support animal, and that this would be a good office for me to connect with. And I thought—‘I don’t think that’s really for me.’ There was kind of a disconnect there. I’m really glad I got the services I did from the office, but it wasn’t something I would have ever thought of myself.” 

“There are problems people talk about that they don’t even know are things Disability Services can help with,” said Disability Services peer leader Maya Rogers ’22. “I personally know four or five people I’ve talked to about things like this.” 

Rogers cited some of the lesser-known ways Disability Services supports students. If a student has asthma, for instance, they can work with Disability Services and Residential Life to be placed in a dorm room that is not carpeted. If a student struggles with mental health issues that impact their ability to work, Disability Services can help them receive academic accommodations. For students with dietary restrictions, Disability Services can work with Bon Appétit to arrange for specially-made meals. 

“Over the past four years, I’ve had a number of experiences with students who have said to me, ‘I didn’t think that what I have qualified for anything here.’ That’s happened a lot of times,” said Dallager.

A shift away from the term “disability,” then, might enable the office to provide support to more students. On the other hand, it could downplay what many who use the office consider an important part of their identity. 

“On the flip side, there are students who say taking ‘disability’ out is disempowering,” said Margolis. “Another argument on that end is: are we limiting the idea of disability, or making it seem like a bad thing? There are no easy answers.”

Issues with the current name do not only come from the term “disability.” “Services,” too, might have negative implications. “We have our personal preferences,” said Rogers. “I see ‘services’ as more passive, and almost infantilizing—as in, ‘how do we serve you,’ ‘how do we fix this deficit’—whereas ‘resources’ has more to do with people accessing and utilizing resources at a college. 

Perhaps seeking a middle ground, some schools’ offices have chosen a “hybrid” name. Barnard, for instance, calls its office “Accessibility Resources & Disability Services”; Davidson has an “Academic Access and Disability Resource Office.” 

“Then it gets to be a little bit like a Portlandia episode, where they’re trying to name a street and can’t settle on anything,” said Dallager, “and it gets to be a very long name. So I don’t know if we want that either.” 

Beyond encouraging students to utilize the office, another motivation for the name change is ideological. “We want to make sure we’re situating ourselves within the broader changes,” said Margolis, “and make sure our language is looking like that of the other schools.”

“Part of the reason for this change is that the name ‘Disability Services,’ sometimes, can be based on a medical model,” said Dallager. He distinguished between this “medical model” of disability, which frames disability as a personal impairment, and a social model, which focuses on the environment and the way society is organized. 

“And the barriers in the environment are really the issue,” said Dallager. “So if we talk about ‘Disability Services,’ it almost suggests that we’re ‘fixing’ that person with the disability by them coming to the office and getting accommodations. But if it’s a resource around ‘accessibility,’ that might better suggest that we’re addressing the barriers that are in the environment.”

“I think where the campus seems to be leaning right now, based on that survey, is in a direction toward taking the word ‘disability’ out of the name,” he continued. “But this is one step in the process, and we’re going to take it slowly.” 

Next in the name-change process, Dallager will take the discussion to the Dean of Students Office. 

“We don’t have an exact timeline,” said Margolis. “The next steps will be to take it to the Dean, which—given everything that’s happening right now—might not happen until the late summer. I think this could potentially happen within the next year, but it’s a little up in the air.” 

Apart from discussion around the impact of language, the office is also weighing the practical implications of a new name. “I think it’s important for us to have a brand we’re proud of, and an acronym,” said Rogers. “Pretty much every office at Carleton has an acronym. I mean, we even shortened ‘library.’ From the very beginning of talking about changing the name, I’ve always thought it was really important for it to be something that will be easy for people to say and remember.” 

“The name we have now is not catchy, and it also has a lot of stigma attached to it,” she continued, “both because of the term ‘disability’ and because Disability Services at Carleton has shifted a lot in the last few years. Chris Dallager came four years ago, which was a huge shift, and we have peer leaders now.” 

Disability Services hired its first peer leaders in Fall 2017, with a cohort of five students. Now, the office has six peer leaders, and for the 2020-21 year, it will have nine. 

Peer leaders work on Disability Services programming, do research about mental health and accessibility issues on campus, and work at the front desk. Besides the office work, the peer leaders have been able to continue their regular responsibilities virtually.  

“We’ve had to adjust things a little bit, obviously, but it’s worked pretty well,” said Chesivoir. 

As during a typical term, Disability Services is currently working both with students who have documented disabilities and those who do not, said Dallager. 

One open program is Carleton Academic Peer Support (CAPS), in which Disability Services peer leaders and staff work one-on-one with students on time management, organization, and executive-function skills.

Any student, regardless of whether they have a documented disability, can participate in CAPS. “We meet with mentees once or twice a week, to provide an accountability partner, someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to get support from related to academics,” said Rogers. Rogers’ CAPS meetings often involve a check-in at the beginning, followed by working silently together over Zoom, she explained. “Then we have another check-in at the end—to say ‘what did you get done, what do you have left to do, how are you feeling,’ that type of thing,” Rogers said. 

Disability Services is still working with students through CAPS—virtually now—and has taken in some new CAPS participants since the term started. “Especially as everyone’s transitioning to virtual learning, I think there’s definitely been an increased desire to have people helping each other stay accountable,” said Rogers.

Another program open to all students is PEERS@Carleton, a social skills education program geared toward helping students make and maintain friendships (PEERS stands for Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills). PEERS participants receive one-on-one social coaching with Disability Services peer leaders, in addition to weekly curriculum led by Dallager. 

“It’s mostly directed at students on the autism spectrum,” said Dallager, “but they don’t have to have a spectrum diagnosis, and they also don’t have to have any documentation in place with our office, to be in that curriculum.” 

While programs like CAPS and PEERS have continued as usual in a virtual form this term, Disability Services has seen other changes since the shift online. “There were a couple of significant changes right away,” said Dallager. “Students who are hard of hearing, in some cases, couldn’t continue to utilize the same supports in the online world that they had made good use of in the on-campus world.” 

During the normal term, Disability Services provides students with frequency modulation devices, which include a microphone for professors to wear during lectures. “That same set-up doesn’t work online,” said Dallager. As an online-learning alternative, Disability Services purchased real-time captioning services, which can be used in Zoom sessions. The system includes both automated captioning and the presence of a human captioner who participates in the Zoom call and corrects what the artificial intelligence gets wrong, explained Dallager. 

Dallager and Accessibility Specialist Sam Thayer ’10 both provide one-on-one student support throughout the term, which has continued virtually this term. Dallager has begun meeting with some new students this term, who hadn’t requested such support during on-campus terms. 

“I think there is something different for some students about working online,” said Dallager. “There are certainly things different for me. When you don’t have a whole lot of other people around you doing the same work, I think sometimes it’s hard to hold yourself to the same accountability.”

Last Friday, May 8, Disability Services and Information Technology Services (ITS) announced the availability of “Read & Write” software, a program designed to increase the accessibility of online files. The software can read web pages, PDFs and other files; convert dictated words into text files; mask screens to assist with screen sensitivity and eye fatigue; and provide integrated vocabulary tools. 

“It’s a campus-wide license, so every single person with a Carleton email can make use of that, and they don’t have to have a disability,” noted Dallager. 

On Friday, May 8, the office joined Instagram (@carleton_disability_services). In the last week, they have made twelve posts, which advertize virtual events and introduce the six peer leaders. 

“We really want to make sure that we’re able to connect with students in a way we haven’t been able to,” said Margolis. “We’ve taken inspiration from all the other offices using Instagram. We’re hoping that will be successful and fun, and a good way of getting information out.” 

Last year, Disability Services began publishing a newsletter, as part of an effort to increase visibility on campus. The Instagram is an extension of that effort to create a sense of community, said Dallager. 

“I think now is a pretty good time to focus on the social media,” said Chesivoir. “Because we can’t necessarily do the office work we usually do. But a lot of people are on their phones right now, and scrolling through Instagram a zillion times a day. So I think it’s a good way to increase engagement while we can’t actually be on campus.” 

“We’d been discussing it for a while,” said Chesivoir of starting the Instagram page. “We want to increase our presence on campus—not just among the people who use our services. Because a lot of people don’t think about disability a lot. And I think it’s important for everyone to know about these kinds of things.”

“We really want to do more outreach—getting more people involved, getting more people interested, and building up into an OIIL, OHP or CCCE type of place,” said Rogers. “Because that’s really what we are—another organization under the Dean of Students Office that does work for students.” 

“As a disabled student, I utilize TRIO, I utilize SHAC, the Dean of Students Office, the Writing Center—but it doesn’t seem like ‘utilization’ of Disability Services in the same way,” continued Rogers. “And part of that is just the name association. I think as is, the name sets ‘Disability Services’ apart from everything.” 

“Language changes,” said Dallager. “And over time, we’ve seen language changing around disability, as well as so many other things. And we want to be aware of what the language is saying about us.”

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Categories: Colleges

CarlDems focus on downballot excitement in 2020 election season

Carletonian - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 9:20am

Joe Biden is all but confirmed as the Democratic presidential nominee. He is not the candidate that most of us at Carleton wanted, and there is work to be done within the Democratic Party to make sure the accusations against him are explored to regain trust among the public. So how can we gain excitement as a party, particularly among young people, so that the next few months until an election, one of the most consequential of our lives, can be fruitful?

Last week, CarlDems signed on to a press release from the College Democrats of Minnesota calling for Joe Biden to “fully cooperate with any investigations into the allegations of sexual assault against him,” to “engage in candid dialogue with the public” and “to acknowledge the severity of this issue in the manner in which these responses are carried out.” Jack Coyne’s well-reasoned opinion in the Carletonian a few weeks ago, which explored these allegations and their implications for the party in more depth, importantly acknowledged that the excuse that many prominent Democrats have used when confronted with the allegations against Biden, that he has always been a champion for women. As an organization, CarlDems hopes that party leadership can move away from creating excuses for men in our own party who are accused of assault. Most notably we have proven there is a will to do this in the case of former Senator Al Franken, and the stakes of this election should not be a reason to not hold candidates to similar standards. A third-party investigation is the first step that the Biden campaign should take if they hope to maintain the moral high ground in this election and gain wide support from young people and survivors who can feel secure in their decision to support him. 

It will be interesting to see how his campaign approaches youth engagement and the campaign ramps up in the summer. For now, we wait and see if and how his campaign will deal with these allegations apart from denouncing them and whether the Democratic Party will lead us to compromise our integrity to have to vote for the lesser of two people accused of assault. 

So, what can we do about the vital importance of this election when we have a potentially problematic and uninspiring candidate at the top of the ballot?

Recently, Jon Olson, a retired naval officer and occasional political science professor at Carleton won the DFL nomination for our state senate race in Northfield. Jacob Isaacs’ May 9 Carletonian opinion drew out some interesting points from that process, which I won’t get into here because the process is over, but I will say that I hope that Jon Olson can prove himself to be a candidate that students can get excited about. 

Regaining that senate seat would be huge. 

The Minnesota House is majority DFL while the Republicans control the Senate, and in order for us to be able to recover after this pandemic, getting a democratic majority in the state senate is going to be crucial. Further, getting the senate majority would be incredibly consequential for the redistricting process that will happen after this year’s census. 

We might not have the most exciting candidate at the top of the ticket, but we cannot allow that to lessen our support for our candidates, both for congress and the state House. If you are still in Minnesota or will be returning this summer, you can already request your absentee ballot for the August and November elections.

We work to keep Tina Smith in the senate and Angie Craig in congress, Todd Lippert in the state House and work to get Jon Olson elected to the state Senate. Carleton students stepped up in a big way in 2018, voting in higher numbers than in 2016. For the 2020 election, we need to move beyond just committing to vote, by finding and engaging with the campaigns that we want to support, in our home states and in Northfield. Most of this work is pretty easy to do right from your couch (textbanking, phonebanking, writing letters), doesn’t take much of your time, and makes a massive impact, particularly for down-ballot races. People will likely be more disillusioned and fatigued this election cycle due to the pandemic, so this work is even more crucial. Whether or not we are energized by our presidential nominee, we have got to get people excited and out to vote for candidates at the local and state levels.

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Categories: Colleges

“Little treasures”: Anna Conley ’20 to search for mushrooms around the globe on Watson Fellowship

Carletonian - Sat, 05/16/2020 - 9:07am

Chemistry major and Spanish minor Anna Conley ’20 recently received the prestigious Watson Fellowship, a national program that funds recipients for a year of international research. For Conley, the Watson will fund a year-long trip around the world to explore her passion: mycology (the study of fungi). As part of her fellowship, she will travel to China, Australia, Chile, the Netherlands, and beyond, exploring fungi and their various cultural contexts. Taylor Yeracaris ’20 sat down (over Zoom!) with Conley to discuss her plans for the fellowship and her passion for all things fungus.

Taylor Yeracaris: What is your fellowship about?

Anna Conley: My fellowship, really broadly, is about mushrooms, or about fungi over all, since mushrooms are only a small part of them. But really it’s about a lot more than just mushrooms. It’s about the people and groups of people who use them. Throughout my life mushrooms and fungi have been something that have brought me together with people, like my family and some very unexpected friends, so I want to learn about the role that fungi play in connecting people to others around them, and also to the natural world. That could look like a lot of different things, from just a hobby—more like I’ve experienced it—to their livelihood or something that they research, and everything in between.

TY: Where will you go on your fellowship?

AC: That’s always open to change. Right now I’m planning to spend some time in the Netherlands, because they have played a huge role in mushroom cultivation. Even though they’re not known for loving to collect mushrooms, they’re the number one exporter of mushrooms in the world, and they’ve developed a lot of the techniques for growing mushrooms. Then I want to spend a little time in the Czech Republic, which is known for its obsession with mushroom hunting—it’s almost like a competitive sport there. Then—and this is still in the works—but I want to travel to some of the regions of Russia and Siberia, where the people, especially the Indigenous peoples, have used fungi for a lot of religious rituals as well as for food. 

AC: Then I want to spend some time in different parts of China, where fungi are revered and have been traditionally used for a long time for food, medicine, and a lot of other things. And then to Australia. Because it’s a very different climate—you wouldn’t really expect fungi in the desert, but there are actually desert truffles that grow there, and they’re a big part of the economy. Originally I found something about the Western Sahara, and how one of the things that has helped the refugee peoples there survive economically is desert truffles, but unfortunately it’s not safe to travel to the Western Sahara. 

AC: And then also to Chile, where I have talked to some organizations who work with Indigenous groups there to identify previously unknown species of fungi in the rainforest and mountains there, as well as their traditional uses. I think that’s all the places I want to go, but it’s very possible that I won’t make it to every single one of them.

TY: How did you find these places and decide where to go?

AC: Well, when it comes to fungi, I really could have found something almost anywhere, because they’re important in pretty much every part of the world in different ways. I wanted to pick a variety of places, where they’re important for different reasons, and also places with very different ecosystems—like from the South American rainforest to Siberia to Australia. And then from commercial uses to research—I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I have also been in contact with a lot of researchers who research new ways that fungi could be used to produce food or to break down trash and things like that. So from cultivation to research to food and medicine and religious use, I tried to include some of all of that. The specifics from there were really just a little bit of luck—who I happened to know or meet through different contacts or some books that I’ve read.

TY: Why are you so passionate about mycology?

AC: I think there are a lot of reasons for that.  I’ve always loved spending time in the outdoors and learning more about the things I see around me, and I think I’ve always had this curiosity about what happens in the ecosystem that we can’t see. For example, underground—that’s most of where fungi do their thing, because they are actually underneath the entire forest. But when I first started getting into mushrooms I really didn’t know any of that. It started out with me as a child with my parents, when they’d take me out to hunt for Morel mushrooms. I absolutely loved it, because I loved searching for and finding them in the forest. They were like little treasures, and I was so proud when I always found more than my family. I would slowly learn the different types of trees they were associated with.

AC: As I got older I started reading more about the biology of fungi, about all the different species, and about the roles they play interacting with the trees in the forest. Fungi are literally everywhere we go, and play a huge role in our daily lives and the lives of the ecosystems we live in. But we hardly know anything about them, and most of the species are not identified. It’s a complete kingdom of life that we don’t really understand. I’m intrigued by that, and intrigued by all the interesting people I’ve met who care about fungi, too.

TY: What sorts of people have you met around fungi? Is there a “fungi type of person?”

AC: I will say most of the people that you’ll meet in the mushroom community, especially in the United States, are at least 50. It’s an older demographic a lot of the time. It’s people who have come into it from different random ways, and they all have completely different lifestyles and jobs, but they will get together in groups to go foraging. They know and connect with each other through their love of searching for mushrooms, and I thought that was cool how that can break down barriers. The biggest example of that I’ve experienced was in Spain. I went to a mycology society conference in Northern Spain—it was kind of a last-minute whim, when I saw it on the Internet, that I decided to go—but I met a bunch of people there. 

AC: There were one or two who were close to my age, but most of them were probably 30 to 50. They were from all different parts of Spain, and had completely different political views, but they’d all been friends for around 14 years, because every year they would come to this conference and search for mushrooms together. They took me with them to search through the forest in France and have a picnic. Then we’d go out and get food and do karaoke. I think they liked that I was so excited about something as unique as fungi, and they took me in. I thought that was a really cool experience. It was all in Spanish, and they called me “their favorite American girl.”

TY: What are you hoping to learn or experience during this fellowship?

AC: I think the main thing that I’m hoping to learn or gain is to build relationships with people who have different perspectives on fungi and the natural world than I do. I’ve grown up collecting and photographing and learning about fungi, and they’re really important to me, but they’re important to a lot of other people in different ways, and I don’t think I can understand that without meeting them. Especially because in the United States people aren’t really in love with fungi, and in fact more the opposite—they think they’re scary or weird or gross—I think learning from people who have a perspective that’s different from that, and who might connect with the natural world in a different way, is the main thing that I want to do. 

AC: I want to learn what things I might be able to take away from those perspectives, or the ways that I might be able to use fungi to help people better use and take care of their natural resources and the ecosystems around them. That could be anything from learning how someone might view their ecosystem differently because they depend on it for the fungi they collect for a living, to talking to researchers who are actually doing projects where fungi might be able to help solve some of our environmental problem. That’s one of my ultimate goals—learning from different people’s perspectives on the natural word and sharing these perspectives when I come back. Really I just want to find a way to use my love of both fungi and the natural world to help better our relationship with the natural world.

TY: What is your favorite fungi fact?

AC: I think something that really impressed me when I was younger was reading books and finding facts about the abilities of fungi that basically made me think that I could invent my own superhero that’s based on a fungus. A mushroom can produce enough force to break through cement— you see them grow through cement and rock. The amount of pressure they produce is huge. And then there are fungi that use temperature gradients and moisture to basically create their own wind, so they’ll create a convection current that will spread their spores. And then there’s the cordyceps fungus, which basically takes over the brain of an ant or caterpillar, makes it climb to the top of a tree, kills it, then grows and spreads its spores from the top of the tree. It’s crazy. And another fact is that they’re delicious! Some of them.

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Categories: Colleges

A spring chorus: Frogs of the Arboretum

Carletonian - Fri, 05/15/2020 - 9:16pm

If you wander by the ponds in the Arboretum in early evening or after a rain, you may hear what resembles a chorus of fine-tooth combs. This is the call of the western chorus frog (Pseudacris maculate), an elusive tree frog found in open, damp areas. During the first run of the Frog and Toad Survey in late April, a team of Carleton naturalists heard western chorus frogs calling en force, especially near Kettle Hole Marsh, Oxbow Pond, and along the Cannon River. These frogs are tiny but mighty: though nocturnal, secretive, and only ¾ -1 ½ inches long, their sharp preep! call can be heard from up to a mile away. During peak breeding season in late April, male chorus frogs sing during both day and night. 

Aside from their distinctive call, western chorus frogs play an important role in wetland ecosystems. They are considered an indicator species, meaning that changes in behavior or morphology are often strong indicators of pollution or toxic substances in the environment. 

Though it is the most abundant frog species of the Arboretum, the western chorus frog is just one of six frogs that call Carleton home. During the Frog and Toad Survey a few weeks ago, northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens) also put on a show near Kettle Hole Marsh with their rattling snores and soft grunts. Named for their distinctive circular spots, leopard frogs are found in grasslands, wet meadows, and forest edges. During summer surveys, leopard frogs can be found hunting for small insects in the prairie. 

Other frogs of the Arboretum include the gray treefrog, Cope’s gray treefrog, bullfrog, green frog, and wood frog. Next time you walk through the Arboretum, take a moment to pause by the ponds and the Cannon River along the way. The spring chorus is a show you don’t want to miss.

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Categories: Colleges

On privilege, uncertainty, and COVID-19

Carletonian - Fri, 05/15/2020 - 8:38pm

I’m just going to say it: I’ve never before had my considerable privilege taken away. Sure, I’ve had challenges in my life, but they’ve stemmed from completely expected occurrences—my great-grandmother dying of old age—to downright wonderful experiences—living abroad for a year (how horrible). And forget structural barriers. I may be a woman, but my white, cisgender, middle-classness protects me from most serious modern misogyny. I may be queer, but my lack of a relationship has more to do with my dating abilities than with homophobia. I have always been able to choose who to be, who to love, where to go to college, when to go to college, and what to do when I get there. My life has always been up to me.

You all know what comes next. A pandemic swoops in, moves my college online indefinitely and sends me right back home. The present is no longer mine to control. I learn for the first time what a truly uncertain future feels like.

It happens every single day. I wake up feeling alive and healthy and therefore unmeasurably grateful, and then I read the headlines. At best, they are giant question marks. At worst, they are: “Expect coronavirus, deaths, and lockdowns on and off for the next few years.” A few means three. Three means the amount of time I have left in college.

Not a question mark. Just a big red X.

My brain doesn’t know what to do with it. At night, it oscillates between questions as I lie awake: What major will I declare next spring or Will I even be on campus next spring? What job do I want after college or Will anyone even be hiring after college? And forget Where do I want to study abroad—it’s been entirely replaced by Will I ever leave this god-awful country again?

Chances are, you’ve asked yourself these kinds of questions in the past two months, as well. Maybe you’ve been asking yourself these kinds of questions your entire life. Or maybe you’re like me, new to this whole the-world-is-not-my-oyster thing. Maybe you, too, are wondering how your fundamentally flawed but seemingly stable country has turned into an eerily silent war zone. Maybe images of the future are flashing through your head where the US is no longer a world leader or whatever we liked to think of ourselves, but “that country where COVID really got out of control.”

I’m not claiming that I’m feeling the worst effects of this pandemic. Not at all. Old hierarchies are being transplanted into the future; COVID is laying bare a new structural inequality each day. Still protected by the same white, cis, middle-classness, I will probably be relatively okay.

But “relative” is so different now. It means being able to work online rather than in person. Being able to leave my house for walks and runs instead of being stuck inside. Being able to stand across the room from my grandmother, even if I can’t hug her. And even this, the best of the best in the age of a pandemic, is hard. Physical closeness is not something I’d ever thought I’d lose; now I start sobbing whenever I imagine holding my family and friends in my arms.

It’s not because I haven’t been able to for months. I can deal with temporary goodbyes. It’s that, for the first time in my life, I don’t know how temporary this one will be. My sadness comes from not knowing when loss will end.

If you feel this way, too, whoever you are, imagine some alternate reality. We’re standing in the Bald Spot—campus is alive with people talking, laughing, moving—the chapel bells are ringing—and I’m giving you the hug we all deserve.

This is all I want. It is the only thing I am certain of.

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