It’s like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Starting March 17, mandated by Governor Tim Walz, Minnesota’s school-aged children were sent home with the possibility they may return to school on Monday, March 30, 2020. Rumors have circulated that students will finish their school year at home with online learning. As of March 19, 2020, at least 92,000 public and private schools are closed in 40 out of 50 states in the U.S., affecting 42.1 million students.
Churches cancelled Lent Service, confirmation classes, and regular Sunday worship services.
Movie theaters, museums, fitness centers, hair and nail salons – all ordered to close.
Assisted living centers and nursing homes have gone into lockdown, allowing no visitors and requiring residents to stay in their rooms.
The Governor also ordered the closure of all restaurants and bars by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day.
The Mall of America – closed.
Banks have converted to drive-up teller service only.
All gatherings of more than 10 people have been discouraged or cancelled.
The local small-town grocery stores have become a popular place, with toilet paper being the hot commodity. People from as far away as Rochester, Minn., have traveled to grocery stores 45 miles away from their home to fill grocery carts with hand sanitizer, bleach, bread, and other staples. Hoarding of supplies left empty shelves.
With the smell of hand sanitizer in the air, “social distancing” has become a new phrase and way of life. No more handshakes or hugs.
The COVID-19 pandemic
This pandemic all started on December 31, 2019, when the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, China. While the first case of a severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged as early as November 17, 2019, the Chinese government officials did not recognize this as a concern at that time.
Since that first case, this global pandemic invaded the Eastern Hemisphere before making its way overseas to America.
As of press time on Thursday, March 19, 2020, the United States of America has 9,521 reported cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) with 9,254 active cases. Out of this total, 108 patients have recovered while a total of 159 fatalities have been reported – 1.67% of those infected.
In Minnesota, there have been 77 reported cases with no deaths. Five of those cases have been identified in Olmsted County, Minn., north of Fillmore County.
Italy has suffered the greatest loss with 8.3% of their 35,713 cases resulting in fatalities. They currently have 28,710 active cases and 4,025 individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19.
Impact on Fillmore County
While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Fillmore County, Minn., residents have hunkered down in their homes at the request of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
Since March 13, 2020, it hasn’t been business as usual in rural Minnesota.
People go to work, as long as their employer is still open. They shop at stores to stock up on food and supplies, and they spend time at home.
Brad Hoiness, owner and operator of Harmony Foods, Preston Foods, and Rushford Foods shared the status of their grocery operations, as they do their best to keep up with supply and demand.
By the end of the weekend on Sunday, March 15, 2020, they were completely out of stock on all toilet paper, single-use sanitizing wipes and liquid hand sanitizers.
Hoiness shared, “We are receiving communications multiple times per day from our main wholesaler, Associated Wholesale Grocers, as they work with suppliers to replenish stock levels to our stores. The critical supply items that have strong demand have been put on allocation, to stop stores from buying up all the remaining inventory of these high demand items.”
As a result of demand for certain items, “We have put maximum purchase limits on items that are on allocation and our customers have been very understanding and are buying what they need. We will continue to work with our suppliers to get replenishment stock each delivery and do the best we can to satisfy the local demand,” explained Hoiness.
According Sunshine Foods owner and operator, Vern Bennett, with locations in Chatfield and Spring Valley, “We have been out of items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizers, bleach, vinegar, disinfecting wipes to name a few. We have reordered but not sure if we will receive this product. Due to the high demand for products, our warehouse has limited each store to the total amount of cases that we can order on each truck. We receive two trucks per week per store. This increase of business has caught everyone off guard so it has caused a bottle neck from the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the retailer. Our wholesaler is doing their best to get what product they have to us. We are at the mercy of our wholesaler. They were receiving 225 truckloads of product this week that would all need to be slotted and sent out to the stores. We are doing our best to keep our stores stocked up for our local residents. You will maybe see a few ‘outs’ on our shelves but there are always other options as far as selections.”
Local restaurants and bars are making significant adjustments.
Mike and Brenda Eickhoff, owners and operators of The Sweet Stop & Sandwich Shoppe in Preston, Minn., said “We have online ordering and they (customers) can also pay online. We are also offering curbside pick-ups. If people call in an order, tell us what they are driving, we will give them their order so they don’t have to get out of their car. We are going to try and be as accommodating as possible.”
Some restaurants have transitioned to offering curbside order pick-up, while others have even started to offer delivery up to a 15 mile radius from their establishment.
In today’s newspaper, please see the center spread for all dining establishments and how they have changed the operations to still serve the public.
To help centralize information regarding the COVID-19, the Fillmore County Journal has established a webpage to list change of hours and operations to Fillmore County businesses and organizations, provide links to resources, and post relevant news items. Please see fillmorecountyjournal.com/covid-19/ for more information.