It was a routine trip to the gas station five weeks ago that drove Amy Herzog into seclusion. She hasn’t been out in public since.
“I hated my experience,” said the 54-year-old medical administrator from Golden Valley. “There was a group of young men, and they were getting in the aisle I was in, and they were making really bad jokes about the virus.
“And I just thought, ‘I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.’
“Now, with as much dire news as I’ve absorbed, I will be very apprehensive about rejoining public places.”
With two weeks remaining in the newly extended stay-home order issued by Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesotans are starting to look toward what life might be like in the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while some are eager to get back to ballgames, dining out and socializing with friends, others say it will be quite some time before they’re comfortable resuming normal activities.
Someday soon, the government may issue the all-clear. But for many Minnesotans, the weeks in quarantine have instilled a sense of caution — or fear — that won’t be easy to shed.
“I think there will be a couple of waves of death,” said Dante McKenna, a 23-year-old business analyst from St. Paul. McKenna said he’ll continue to self-isolate even after the stay-home order is lifted and suggested that Minneapolis and St. Paul should close their skyway systems, calling them a potential “cesspool” of disease.
“I’m not a paranoid person,” he said. “But to me, looking at all the facts — looking at the results from Italy, China, South Korea — it’s doing the only thing that makes sense.”
Recent polls suggest that a strong majority of Americans agree, consistently showing that 70 to 80% of the country favors a slow approach to reopening. On Thursday, a poll released by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion found that 91% of Americans oppose attending large sporting events without further testing, while 85% think schools should remain closed and 80% don’t think it’s a good idea to allow dine-in service at restaurants.
Two-thirds of Americans, according to the Marist poll, think it’s a bad idea to let Americans go back to work without further testing.
Brendan Kennealy of Richfield said he trusts Walz and his team to make the right decisions.
“I don’t think they would tell us it’s safe to go out until they meet those criteria for tests and tracing,” said Kennealy, a 36-year-old copywriter and father of Hazel, nearly 2. “I am eager to ease myself back into something resembling my old life, but I won’t make any changes until our leadership says it’s safe.”
Voices of disagreement
Lee von Lehe disagrees. Strongly.
The extension of Walz’s stay-home order, announced Thursday, “has me absolutely furious,” said von Lehe, 70, a retired electronics engineer from Falcon Heights. The major problems in the novel coronavirus outbreak, he said, have been in the population that already has health problems.
A marathoner and cross-country skier who regularly bikes 1,500 miles each summer, von Lehe doesn’t see why healthy people should be under tight restrictions.
“I don’t think the government is respecting the people who want to go to work and the companies who want to open up,” he said. “I think they are so data-dependent that they’re forgetting about the general population.”
Jerrod Hammerback of Alexandria is also ready to go.
“As a healthy person in my 40s, I don’t fear getting this,” he wrote in response to an online query about reopening. “It’s time to let those that can open their businesses and go back to work to pick up the people that can’t or aren’t comfortable being out.”
Dr. F. Mark Carter of Eagan is 73 and about to undergo treatment for prostate cancer at the Mayo Clinic. The retired intensive care physician has been in “total lockdown” for six weeks. With the danger the coronavirus poses, Carter said he has no problem telling people to stay home for months to come.
“We’ve got a potential powder keg,” he said of people returning to normal behavior too soon. Officials in Germany and Great Britain are dialing back plans to reopen society because of the threat of a spike in infections.
“I don’t think the general public really understands how serious this pandemic is.”
Calling the conflict between the survival of businesses and the survival of people “a false dichotomy,” Carter said a lot more people will die and many more businesses will tank if people go back too soon.
“We’re in a worse mess trying to put the genie back into the bottle,” Carter said. “If people start rushing back to work, and opening cinemas and restaurants, we’re going to have a terrible catastrophe.”
Popcorn and salons
In Granite Falls, Minn., the downtown popcorn stand opened Friday for its 101st season. The stand in this southwestern Minnesota city, operated by the local Kiwanis Club, is considered takeout dining, officials said, and they’ll be observing social distancing and recommended sanitary procedures while serving up popcorn and root beer.
While the opening of the local institution is a welcome signal of normalcy, residents have generally accepted the restrictions, said Mayor Dave Smiglewski.
“Most folks I talk to would love to have public places like schools, churches, restaurants and other businesses reopen as soon as possible, but they generally understand the need to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 and have accepted the shutdowns,” he said.
“I liken this to how we deal with a flood, something Granite Falls has had a lot of experience with,” he added. “Like the spring meltwater that we know is going to come down the [Minnesota] river, we know this virus is going to spread through our population. We can’t stop it but we can take precautions to be ready.”
Kelsey Landro and her two co-owners opened District on 50th, a hair salon at 50th and France in Edina, in November. In mid-March, Walz’s order put Landro and the 20 stylists who rent chairs at the salon out of work.
Despite the financial hardships of going six weeks without an income, Landro said not all of her stylists are ready to return to work.
“Everybody in our shop feels differently. More than half are not ready to come back,” she said, adding that reasons range from fear of contracting COVID-19 to uncertainty about what the guidelines will be. “As an owner, we’re just waiting for some guidance. I know I’m not ready.”
Many hoping for vaccine
Many Minnesotans, in interviews and responses to an online query, said they won’t be fully ready to return to normal life until medical treatments catch up to the virus. That means widespread testing, tracing those who have come in contact with an infected person and development of a vaccine — even though many experts say it could be a year to 18 months until a vaccine is ready.
“Until there is a vaccine, I will continue to be cautious about returning to routines such as shopping, eating out, going to sporting events, etc.,” wrote Eric Lonzo of Eagan.
“I won’t be able to leave my home while everyone goes about their lives and continues to spread the virus,” wrote Caleb Chapman of Mankato, who’s on medication for an autoimmune disorder. “I will basically be confined to staying here until there’s a vaccine.”
Kelly Swanson, 58, of St. Michael is a paraprofessional working with young English language learners. Laid off from her job as a bank manager in 2014, Swanson decided to “reinvent” herself working with children.
She misses being with them and laments being limited to online contact only. But returning to work could be a life and death decision for Swanson, who said she has several pre-existing conditions.
“I don’t like to be lonely and stuck in the house, so not going back isn’t an easy decision,” she said. “I do this for the joy in the children. But so much is unknown,” she said. “Are we going to be wearing face masks, are the children going to be scared?”
She added: “If I’m going to be helping a child with a math problem, I can’t be 6 feet away.”