The COVID-19 pandemic is a historic global event we have all felt to some degree, even here in Minnesota. While we haven’t been forced to respond to an overwhelming surge in medical needs like New York or Italy, we have lost lives here in Minnesota and felt the impact in our workplaces, families, and the local economy. Late last week, the state’s largest private employer and our community asset, Mayo Clinic, announced necessary shifts that we know will affect their employees, families, and our communities directly. This collective stress reminds us every day that the world is different than it was just a month ago.

Through all of this I see every day how strong and resilient people are in the community my family calls home. I see people following blue arrows in grocery stores. I’ve watched organizations come together to ensure those with the most need have access to food and emergency help. I’ve received calls from local business owners, not to tell me about how difficult it is to hold their business together, but to ask how they can help provide support or donate homemade masks for Olmsted County staff.

In my own home, I’m seeing a spouse who never planned on being a teacher doing just that thanks to a truly dedicated kindergarten teacher and an innovative school. A silver lining to all of this is witnessing how a community comes together in times of need. As the county’s director of public health, I want to thank you, our community, for all the sacrifices you’ve made to protect our community. 

Public health experts across the country are seeing that social distancing is helping to lessen the terrible burden our country is shouldering right now. Even with the efforts we’ve all made, Minnesota has had 50 families already impacted with the death of a loved one, including two here in Olmsted County. The efforts being made across Minnesota have likely prevented many more deaths already. This is apparent in lower numbers of actual cases and deaths than originally predicted for this state and the country overall.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced he was extending Minnesota’s stay at home order until May 4. If we don’t give the virus anyone to jump to, it dies when each infected person fights off the virus. However, we all know this isn’t easy. Businesses need to re-open, people naturally need social interaction, and my wife will happily cheer the day schools open again.

Each day we don’t see accelerating transmission locally is another day we have to prepare hospital beds and accumulate the necessary equipment to keep our first responders and healthcare professionals safe. It also allows world-class facilities like the Mayo Clinic time to develop treatments, better testing, and eventually a vaccine that could eliminate this virus from everything but our memory. By limiting transmission, our medical system has been able to provide the best care possible to those suffering from severe infections. 

The work we are doing to stay away from others is difficult, but it is also literally saving lives in our community. 

There will be a time to start getting back to work and school, but we aren’t there yet. I want to encourage all of us to stay vigilant for a few more weeks – stay home and stay away from groups of people. If we do this as a community, we can keep making decisions about how to navigate through this together instead of the virus making the decisions for us. 

Graham Briggs
Graham Briggs

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