Sharon Carlson won’t soon forsake new habits shaped by the threat of COVID-19 — donning a mask, eating immunity-boosting foods and practicing deep breathing exercises in her Andover home.
Neither will Kristine Spanier, a mother of two in south Minneapolis who limits her treks to the grocery store and wipes down her car after each trip.
Nor will Deb Shambo, who largely stays at home with her husband and orders groceries for pickup or delivery to protect themselves, neighbors, friends and loved ones.
“We don’t have an alternative and it is a no-brainer,” said Shambo, a St. Paul retiree who worked in a hospital lab for 30 years.
Even as much of the state reopens Monday under Gov. Tim Walz’s “Stay Safe MN” strategy, many Minnesotans are vowing to remain vigilant and stick with newly formed routines to keep COVID-19 at bay. In so doing, they say, they’re doing their part to help medical workers, flatten the curve and reduce the virus’ spread.
Minnesota’s stay-at-home order and the practice of social distancing have helped reduce the predicted number of COVID-19 deaths in the state, researchers reported last week. Yet some recent national polls reflect a growing American wariness with the restraints.
Despite that sentiment, Walz, who announced Wednesday his decision to loosen restrictions on many small businesses and retailers, urged residents not to abandon caution.
“The stay-at-home order is expiring and the dials are turning, but that doesn’t mean we are carefree and can return to the way things were,” Walz said. “It means we have to stay safe, take care, care for our own health and care for our neighbor.”
‘Going as long as I can’
Spanier, a 51-year-old writer, said she isn’t planning to change much of her new routine until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.
She wears a mask and gloves each time she heads to the store, then sanitizes her car and phone afterward and leaves nonperishable items inside the vehicle for a couple of days to ensure they are virus-free.
Other than a few drives around town and several socially distanced get-togethers with friends several weeks ago, her 13-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter rarely go out. When the family heads outdoors for a walk, they are careful to cross the street if someone is approaching.
“I’ll just keep going as long as I can with this,” Spanier said. Taking precautions “is the only way we can attempt to control something that is otherwise uncontrollable right now.”
Robin Evans, a 66-year-old former nurse practitioner, didn’t expect to spend her first year of retirement stuck in her Minneapolis home. A trip to the post office has been her only venture out in public since late March. Her husband, David Evans, works at Cub Foods twice a week. When he returns home, she wipes down everything he touches on his way into the house, where he then changes clothes.
“I think that anyone who is following all the precautions is not being overly fearful, but being prudent,” Evans said.
Abu Nayeem, 31, former St. Paul City Council candidate from the Frogtown neighborhood whose uncle died in New York City from COVID-19, also is determined to not relax his vigilance. That means wearing a mask — and giving masks to others — during the neighborhood cleanups he organizes.
It also means, he said, that city and state leaders must continue urging people to take precautions — even as more businesses and facilities reopen.
“Recklessness will lead to a surge,” he said.
Last week, Nayeem made a post to a St. Paul Facebook page showing publicly available cellphone data that seemed to indicate that people were getting out more and socializing closer together. He also said he is alarmed by what he’s seen from neighbors over the past few weeks — full parking lots in St. Paul’s Como Park, people crowding along trails and sidewalks, others bunching together on sports fields — many not wearing masks.
“It looks like no one cares anymore,” he said.
Anxiety and fatigue
While Deb Shambo sees people eager to resume going to bars and restaurants, she and her husband, who works in the pathology department at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, won’t be out among them.
“Since more people out and about will mean more exposure and more positive cases,” she said, the couple “will likely take more precautions.”
Carol Lipstone, an administrative coordinator for a Rochester charter school, admits that she is starting to tire of the many changes she’s made in her life to guard against COVID-19.
She goes to the grocery store as soon as it opens and wears a mask and sometimes gloves. At 57, she worries about contracting the virus, but she said her actions have more to do with protecting her community.
“It has been a long time, and I am getting sick of it,” she said. “But when you look at the bigger picture and the greater good, both point toward keeping people safe ... I’m willing to sacrifice however long it takes until we are on the downside so that I’m not contributing to the spread. It’s hard, but it’s a necessity.”
It can be normal for people to tire of the restrictions, particularly as feelings of boredom increase, said Mary Jo Kreitzer, director of the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing and a professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing.
The inability to find purpose or meaning in an action can exacerbate feelings of boredom and anxiety and can further limit one’s attention span.
“The challenge is to help people find meaning in what they are doing with social distancing — that this is not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we,’ ” Kreitzer said. “It’s meaningful when we think about doing it to save lives.”
Sharing the music
Hoping to stave off boredom, not only for herself but for her neighbors, Emilia Mettenbrink has added daily violin concerts to her quarantine routine.
Each day at 6 p.m., the sweet sounds of a violin playing Bach and Mozart rise from the third-floor balcony of an 1880s row house in St. Paul’s historic Ramsey Hill neighborhood. Mettenbrink figures one way to inspire neighbors during this global pandemic is to share her love of music. Her concerts attract a steady stream of neighbors and passersby on the boulevards and yards near the intersection of Kent Street and Portland Avenue.
Mettenbrink, who also plays in the chamber ensemble Sphinx Virtuosi, has been out of work since mid-March, when concert venues went dark. She said she and her partner, a college professor, have no intention of ending their stay-at-home anytime soon.
Her sister is a nurse at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and “I would get a talking to pretty quickly if I stopped sticking to it,” she said.
Meanwhile, across the Twin Cities, Sharon Carlson is taking every precaution she can against COVID-19. She’ll drive 45 minutes from her Andover home to a grocery store in neighboring Isanti County, where there are fewer confirmed cases of the virus.
She has even brought social distancing rules into her home, which she shares with her two adult daughters. One works at a veterinary clinic, and both have been out in public more than Carlson. To prevent possible spread, Carlson has them don masks when in a shared part of the house. She’s constantly sanitizing the kitchen, opening windows and politely offering reminders that they not breathe on her.
“They think I’m being paranoid,” said Carlson, 60. “It is bizarre to be sort of estranged from my children in my own house. ... But I’m not going to let up.”
On a recent afternoon, however, she made one small concession. When her oldest daughter asked for a hug, Carlson relented, and for the first time in months, the two embraced.