Community turns to itself during pandemic

Published 7:01 am Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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It just so happens that I read Curt Brown’s book, “Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State” early in 2020. (You may remember Brown was one of the Authors at the 2019 Austin ArtWorks Festival.) The book chronicles, among other disasters, the 1918 flu’s impact on our state. Somehow, when I read the book I never imagined that I would live through an infectious disease pandemic myself.

But here we are, sheltering in place to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus. I count myself lucky to experience a pandemic in the 21st century. Compared to our Minnesota predecessors, we have incredible assets to help us battle a public health emergency. We have modern science to tell us how disease is (and is not) spread. We happen to be the home of Mayo Clinic Health System, a world leader in healthcare. We have mass communication to disseminate information at a speed never imagined in 1918. That same communication network is helping maintain social ties in lieu of physical proximity.

It’s counterintuitive: our whole state is rejecting our social ties precisely because that is our best option to preserve our community. A few weeks ago, a gesture of respect and care was a handshake. That same goodwill is now expressed as a wave from a distance. It helps me cope with the change to think of that wide berth I give my neighbor on the walking path as six feet of love.

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That, of course, is the heart of the matter. Loving and respecting our neighbors is how Minnesota survived the 1918 flu pandemic. It is how we will survive COVID 19.

We will check on our vulnerable family and neighbors with a phone call instead of a drop in. We will share what we have: toilet paper, Tylenol and good books. Not hand-to-hand, but left on door steps. We will be thoughtful and kind. We will spend our money locally, even when layoffs and reduced hours cut the budget. We will say thank you to health care workers and law enforcement for keeping us safe. We will appreciate truck drivers and grocery clerks and drive thru staff for keeping us fed.

We will live in community. The way we have been in the state of Minnesota for 162 years. The way first nations people have been on this land for centuries before that.

At Austin Area Arts, we are doing our part by focusing on what the arts do so well: lifting our spirits. Follow our social media or subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter ( for things to make you smile, including inspiration for your own creative endeavours, comedy, music and color. Take a drive or a stroll around your neighborhood, and I bet you’ll see others doing the same: messages in windows, chalk drawings on the sidewalks and more. Even sheltering in place, art is not canceled.

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