What Minnesotans have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic

Words written in chalk on the sidewalk.
Chalk art on a sidewalk in St. Paul reminds people to stay at home and maintain social distance.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Being home-bound amid the coronavirus pandemic has offered many of us time to reflect on the world around us — what we like, what we don’t like, what needs changing.

So we asked members of our audience to record themselves talking about what they’re thinking about, from their concerns to what they’re grateful for.

Their prompt was this:

As the coronavirus pandemic continues altering our lives, what have you learned? What would you do the same or differently in your home, community or work next time a pandemic like this hits?

Responses were appropriately open-ended, but there’s a unique perspective in each. Here are a few who replied.

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A teacher’s worry for kids without support at home

Erin Kerttula of Cottage Grove

Works as a teacher

by Erin Kerttula

I have two elementary-aged daughters at home and I've learned a lot, and continue to learn, as we live through this pandemic. The situation has visibly demonstrated how our personal decisions impact those around us. It's been really important for me to talk about this with my kids. I want them to understand how their sacrifice is helping others and how well sometimes we don't see the benefits or consequences of our actions first-hand, that doesn't mean they aren't real or impactful. 

Erin Kerttula
Erin Kerttula
Submitted image

I just want them to realize this is a civic duty that I've never had to participate in before. As we progress and make adjustments for the future, I'm not sure of the best way to accomplish it, but I worry most about equity — primarily about those kids in unsafe situations at home, those who don't have a parent to help or a parent capable of helping with their school tasks and those who are dependent on school for socialization because they don't have any friends at home to call or text. 

It's a panicky time for everyone to an extent. But kids always seem to pick up on enough so that they know they should be nervous, but don't know enough about why. And they have such little control over their environments. When that anxiety is compounded with missing the social interaction at school and the normal aspects of their lives, I really worry. I'd like to think that many of them are at home with a loving family and are supported like they should be. But I know that so many aren't. 

‘The ball was dropped at the very top’

Sue Breska of Finlayson

by Sue Breska

I have a background in public health, having worked for 15 years in a county public health agency. I'm no longer employed there, but I began my career three weeks before 9/11 and during the time I worked for public health, we had quite an emphasis on preparedness and emergency response. We did trainings. We had tabletop exercises, full-scale drills with other agencies. 

Sue Breska
Sue Breska
Submitted image

When the H1N1 virus came along, we mobilized with mass immunization clinics. We were always assured that any supplies that we didn't have on site would be available to us from the strategic national stockpile. And since this coronavirus has come along, I have realized that the ball was dropped at the very top. 

There hasn't been the kind of leadership that we should have and the local agencies can do only what they're directed to do. I don't know what the problem is with the strategic national stockpile. It better get fixed because local agencies depend on it. And I do realize that we can no longer count on the federal government to provide that leadership. 

At this point, I'm really glad I'm not working in public health anymore, because it would be a disaster trying to serve the public under these circumstances. 

Reflecting on community

Wayne Glass of St. Paul

Works in higher education, plus part-time at three gyms and a bar

by Wayne Glass

COVID-19 has taught me a lot over the last couple of weeks. I think two of the biggest things are appreciating what we typically take advantage of, given the day-to-day hustle and the day-to-day life that we have — the go, go, go, go, go that we constantly live in as a world. 

Wayne Glass
Wayne Glass
Submitted image

I've really been able to appreciate the neighborhood that I live in. I've been recently saying that this is probably the nicest place I live in my entire life. I'm also a transplant of Minnesota and I've lived here for five years. I've been able to be outside when the weather is nice — going on walks, of course with social distancing, and running and just trying to take advantage of the opportunity to be outside and really working on appreciating the smaller things in life. 

In addition to that, I've really been reevaluating and reflecting the notions of community and who's in my life as community members. A good example that really stands out to me is a couple of my friends actually brought fitness equipment and groceries and toilet paper to my apartment when I was in need of them. And even though they know they didn't have to and I could go out and get them, they felt the kindness in their heart to go out and do that. So these are all things that I've been reflecting on and really trying not to take for granted in really challenging times. 

Learning new appreciation for the everyday

Montse Aguilar of Lakeville

Works as a military account manager at an aerospace company in Burnsville

by Montse Aguilar

With this pandemic, I have learned that I wouldn't be terrible at home schooling, but I wouldn't be great at it either. I've also learned to appreciate the work of teachers, schools, child care providers and first responders. 

Montse Aguilar
Montse Aguilar
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I've learned to appreciate the opportunity to visit church, museums and events that are not essential for the survival of the body, but I believe are essential for the survival of the soul. I've learned that while working from home is not for me, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. I've learned that I've missed many milestones achieved by my young children, but surprisingly, I don't have regrets. 

I believe the response by the federal government should have and could have been made earlier. I also believe that the local government should allow for smaller, safe crews or safe communities, so people not living in the same household, but who are self-isolating, could visit each other. This, just to avoid people becoming lonely and depressed — and also to allow for this to be more bearable. 

Finally, I think I've learned to appreciate more life in general and just to not take things for granted.

An easy adjustment for an introvert

Keith Heiberg of Minneapolis

by Keith Heiberg
Keith Heiberg
Keith Heiberg
Submitted image

I was a part time food service worker but got laid off. As an introvert, social distancing doesn't bother me. In fact, it's nice to be ahead of the curve, even if it’s for the wrong reason.

I couldn't justify an expensive home internet package, so I went online at libraries or coffeehouses until they closed. In theory, Minneapolis has free or low cost Wi-Fi, but I can't get a signal in my apartment near downtown. 

With so many essential services now online only, I had to pay for a wired connection. Ironically, now I stay in touch with friends and family more often. I spend my time volunteering and getting out of my bike as much as possible to maintain physical and emotional health. 

Our response is ‘uniquely Minnesotan’ 

Bill Mabry of Apple Valley of White Bear Lake

Works as a senior equipment technician for a semiconductor manufacturer in Bloomington

by Bill Mabry

I've been living here for four years in Minnesota. I came from Idaho, where I still have a lot of family. I have a girlfriend here. She's a nurse working at a hospital in the city. It's been a very tough time since COVID-19, came along and, of course, since the governor asked us all to kind of stay at home. It's a tough thing that everybody's having to deal with, but I've kind of found that Minnesotans really want to knock this thing down. It's really great to see everybody working together, social distancing, supporting their neighbors, being great friends ... I'm seeing a lot of it all the time. I almost want to say that it's really uniquely Minnesotan. 

I think there's something about Minnesota. We're in the sweet spot environmentally, but also socially and spiritually. It just seems like there's a lot of hope and a lot of inspiration that people share with each other as we work hard to defeat this. That's really important, especially since the governor's asked us to do all this stuff. And so, my girlfriend and I — despite how tough it's been for her — we want to be the best friend, the best neighbor we can be for everybody around us so that we can continue to work to defeat this and keep these numbers low here in Minnesota. 

I really do believe that it's a testament to how hard we're working as Minnesotans and how much we want it, how much we want to get to the finish line, keep everybody safe and healthy, and get us to a point where we have some kind of treatment or some kind of vaccine. So anyway, I sure hope that we just keep doing what we're doing. And let's go Minnesota. 

Thankful for Minnesota’s leadership

Randy Brown of White Bear Lake

by Randy Brown

We can't go into a disaster the way we might like to. We can only go into it with the preparation we've done. The sad truth is America is under-prepared to fight the coronavirus. Federal leadership has not been decisive or articulate in the last several weeks, while leaders relied on denial and happy talk to prepare the country for a pandemic. 

Randy Brown
Randy Brown
Submitted image

In Minnesota, we began serious preparation, even while our federal leadership was still framing the coronavirus as no more serious than the flu. The state Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz formed a responsive partnership for which Minnesota can be pleased. We trust the information we are given in spite of its difficulty. There is a sense we can fight the pandemic and come out the other side with hope and resilience. 

Communication has been clear, given with empathy and based on fact. We understand the policies, why they've been necessary and how long they're going to be in place. Minnesota’s leadership has been admirable. Our Legislature, legislators and state executives have risen to this difficult task, rolled up their sleeves and helped us all to prepare. We're proud of what Minnesota has accomplished so far in the face of this pandemic. 

Pandemic means there’s finally time to start that podcast

Vivienne Whitfield
Vivienne Whitfield
Submitted image

Vivienne Whitefield of Minneapolis

Works in online retail

by Vivienne Whitfield

I'm currently cooped up with the family, which includes a temperamental cat and a droopy basset hound. I have always been toying with the idea of a podcast, but struggled to find just the right content and was daunted by the setup.

Well, COVID-19 changed that for me. I have now learned to create a podcast that focuses on connecting friends from around the world with stories of their COVID experience.

Audience responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.