Back in the day when farmers relied on horses to work their fields, the expression "smelling the barn" referred to an animal's eagerness to bolt for home before the day's work was done. With the promise of oats and hay beckoning, one needed a tight grip on the reins to keep a 1,500-pound animal in the traces.

Today, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz holds the reins of a state that definitely can smell the barn. His challenge is to keep all of us pulling together in the right direction until we've completed a very unpleasant task – defeating COVID-19.

So far, Minnesotans' efforts have been nothing short of spectacular.

When Walz told us to stay home, we stayed home. While news reports have abounded with stories of people in other states ignoring social distancing rules in parks and at beaches, Minnesotans have followed the rules.

It hasn't been easy. We're stressed. We're bored. We're worried, especially those who have been laid off. We miss our friends. We miss our extended family. We miss Friday nights at our favorite restaurant. We miss Saturday mornings on the golf course. We miss T-ball games and high school sports. We miss the Twins. We're three weeks overdue for a haircut. The exciting novelty of distance learning has faded, and our stir-crazy kids actually want to go back to school.

But we've persevered, and as a result, Minnesota has the fewest COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the nation. By staying home and maintaining proper social distance, we've protected ourselves, our families and our neighbors – and we've given our heroic doctors, nurses and first responders a better chance to save those who are sick.

We all deserve a pat on the back, but it isn't time to bolt for the barn. Much hard work remains.

On Wednesday, Walz extended his "stay at home" order to May 4. That's another 3 ½ weeks of social isolation at a time when winter-weary Minnesotans normally would be bursting from their homes with the enthusiasm of kids after the final bell on the last day of school.

It's going to be tough, but we have to persevere. We have to be disciplined, lest we undo all the good we've done in the past few weeks.

Easter Sunday is the first test. The most sacred day on the Christian calendar isn't meant to be celebrated remotely, but that's the reality this year.

So be creative. Stream a church service into your home. If possible, gather the family through a videoconference and have a Brady Bunch-like reunion. Cook a great meal and let the kids help. Reach out and restore a long-neglected friendship.

And, starting Monday, try not to focus on what we can't do in the next three weeks. Indeed, try not to focus on May 4 at all, because COVID-19 won't magically disappear on that date. Anything approaching "normal" life is months away, and even the best-case scenarios point to a summer unlike any we've experienced before.

The best we can do is to plow ahead one day at a time – and the more we pull together, the sooner we'll reach the end of this rocky field.