This week on the Minnesota News Health Report, state and tribal leaders say more people must enlist in the war on Covid-19.
“To beat a pandemic, a majority isn’t enough. Now more than ever we need literally all of us to make these personal, individual efforts to keep all Minnesotans safe,” said Jan Malcolm, the State Health Commissioner.
She says beating the virus is hard – but not complicated. It doesn’t cost anything to wear a mask, keep at least six feet apart, and get tested if you’ve been exposed or if you’re not feeling well.
The predicted fall surge of virus is upon us. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are way up this week, with a positivity rate of more than six percent. And the virus is spreading faster in greater Minnesota than the Twin Cities metro.
The numbers from the Indian Health Service are worrisome. The Bemidji area covers 34 tribes in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The latest area positivity rate is 10.8 percent. Area Director Daniel Frye says some of this is driven by the extreme surge in Wisconsin, which has a positivity rate over 20 percent.
“They have their own mandates on their reservations, but the surrounding counties around them, they don’t have any, so it’s easy for that virus to spread because now people are starting to go more indoors between schools being open sporting activities, and now it’s getting colder, so you’re not seeing as much outside,” says Frye.
Frye says Minnesota’s mask mandate has been effective, but it could be more effective.
“Bemidji has been very good about making sure that they’re enforcing that mask mandate, if I go to Walmart, I feel pretty comfortable that most folks are going to have their mask on. But if I get out into just a couple rural towns away, you know, Bagley and down us to, I’m not going to see that I’m still going to see a lot of folks not adhering to it and a lot of local establishments not enforcing the mask mandates.” said Frye.
Daniel Frye says if he walks into a place where people are not masked, he leaves.
“I’ve had high blood pressure my whole adult life so I’m worried about having those pre-existing conditions as well…” said Frye.
He says the tribes are doing the best they can without walling their citizens in. Most need to keep casinos open because that revenue supports the social services they provide. He encourages tribal leaders to pace themselves for what will undoubtedly be a long haul.
“What we need is a break. And I don’t say that ironically, I say that, because the fatigue among these health directors among the frontline staff that are there every day is really high right now.
… we need all of us to be in our top form when we are at work when we are having these conversations. So when you get a chance to take a few days off to take a weekend and take a whole week, you really just need to shut off what’s going on with COVID.” said Frye.
Especially because it looks like things will get worse before they get better.
“No one can go through a pandemic and basically be on call for 12 months straight. It’s just not physically possible. You’ll become emotionally and physically drained. And mentally, you will not be able to offer what you need to for the people that need it.” he said.
Director Frye is trying to walk the talk, spending lots of time with his small children, teaching them how to practice traditional ways of resilience.
“It’s not about just doing those things. It’s not about just doing something like smudging, it’s teaching, why those things are meaningful and where it came from. you know, with my son being four and my daughter being too it’s going to be an opportunity for me to, get them more engaged in who we are and where we came from as well. And Minnesota, especially northern Minnesota here in Bemidji is such a great place for it because you’re surrounded by three Anishinabe reservations – that Ojibwe culture.” said Frye.
As individuals prepare for the long winter haul, Native Nations are providing good examples of how to put community first. State officials are pleading with all Minnesotans to do the same.
“There’s a good reason that the people who lived through World War Two are called the greatest generation, not only their efforts on the battlefield, but literally saved the world, but also for the work and sacrifices of those here at home. During that time, we saw a spirit of unity and purpose and a focus on shared goals that maybe hasn’t been as clear to us in more recent times.” said Malcolm