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Homebound in New York City

Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't issued a “shelter-in-place” order as of Monday for New York City, many people are practicing social distancing and opting to stay home when possible.

Glencoe High School graduate Deborah Jean Templin has called the Big Apple home for more than 40 years. She makes her living as an actress.

“Grocery stores are open. Hardware stores are open. Pharmacies are open,” she said. “Fruit stands on the street will close for two weeks. Our great Riverside Park constructed during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration ... is a great blessing for the people on the Upper West Side. Many people take a daily constitutional overlooking the Hudson River.”

Last week Templin said the police had to find a wedding in the basement of a structure in Brooklyn with 200 wedding guests and close it down.

“This is real and some people must not understand,” she said.

WEARING MASK AND GLOVES

Templin is taking the pandemic seriously. She is spending her time at home as much as possible. The last time she attended church was March 15. She remembers hugging a friend. She wouldn't do that today. The last time she took public transportation was March 16. When she ventures out, she wears a mask and rubber gloves. 

"People are thinking about how long the coronavirus stays on their clothes," she said. 

Templin, who grew up on a farm, said it reminded her of going to the barn. She always changed clothes when she came into the house. The same is happening with COVID-19. 

Another reason Templin is staying home is because Broadway has shut down and she can't go to auditions.

Kay Johnson / Submitted photo 

Deborah Jean Templin took this photograph of the empty 72nd Street subway platform. “There are always people on that platform,” she said. “It’s really packed from 8 to 10 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. This is the new normal in terms of the subway.”

"I love auditioning," she said. "To me, it's kind of like going to the County Fair. Everybody looks their best and presents their best self. It's not that I'm competing with someone else. I get up, dress up and show up. Now that I'm not auditioning, I get up, dress up and I create a little video (for friends who may have a birthday). I look forward to it. What's the story I want to tell? I keep it short. I want to connect with them."

As a result of the changes in the industry, Templin said actors are becoming filmmakers.

"We have to know how to videotape auditions," she said. "That's how we're going to get work. Casting directors have done 'how-to' videos. It's not going away. Voice teachers at the Manhatten School of Music are teaching lessons on Skype. Columbia closed. All classes are online."

Templin remembered when the American Academy of Dramatic Arts started offering classes online in 2008. She thought it was strange.

"That was 12 years ago," she said. "It's not strange anymore."

Among the projects Templin was working on before the pandemic was a web series called "Pillow Talk," a take on the Rock Hudson and Doris Day movie of the same name. 

"I should have known better than to do a web series that featured a dog, but I couldn't help myself, he's very cute," she said.

The project is being done in collaboration with her friend, Ron Schwinn, a veteran of 13 Broadway shows. He didn't let 9/11 change his schedule, but the virus has made him opt to stay home rather than make the twice-a-week journey on public transportation to work with Templin.

Schwinn, who loves sailing, offered some advice that she shared: "We are caught in the middle of a storm at sea. Keep your wits about you, shorten the sails, put up the storm jib and ride it out."

Another project she completed was a seminar on Facebook Live showing people how to set up an in-home studio.

"I could do this because I was a 4-H'er," she said. "I learned about three-point lighting in the photography project."

APPRECIATING TECHNOLOGY

The Plato native is grateful for Facebook and the internet. 

Kay Johnson / Submitted photo 

The street is empty as this FreshDirect worker delivers groceries. “Before (the pandemic), the truck might have parked in front of the house,” she said. “He can be in the street because there’s no people. You can see the crosswalk.” According to the FreshDirect website, the online grocery shopping and delivery service is “experiencing very high demand and long customer service waits.”

"It keeps me in contact with friends," she said. "I know that this is a temporary thing, but obtaining work in the entertainment profession may never be the same. We are definitely moving to a time of self-tapes instead of going to a casting director's office."

Home for Templin is a 20-unit apartment building on the Upper West Side, which is where many creative people live including artists, opera singers, actors, musicians and writers. 

"Of those 20 units, 10 people have chosen to be in alternative spaces that they own," she said. "Some have gone ... to Sullivan County. Some have homes in Long Island. Some live in Connecticut and use their apartment as a “pied-à-terre," (which means for occasional use).

Templin keeps herself busy by maintaining a schedule every day. Among her activities are journaling, talking to family and friends and completing her physical therapy exercises. She also looks forward to listening to the governor's press conferences.

"Listening to my leader, Gov. Cuomo, makes me feel so much better," she said. "He's a wonderful speaker. He said, 'We're socially distant but spiritually connected.' You can see him forming his thoughts while he's looking at the camera. He's answering every question and making me feel calm."

For now, Templin will continue to hunker down. 

"It's a beautiful city," she said. "The events of 9/11 did not shut down Broadway. This virus has. That being said, we will rise. We are prepared."


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Help from schools to families

A small group of people briefly meeting in the Hutchinson Recreation Center parking lot Monday morning were in high spirits.

Lore Lewerenz, a cook at Hutchinson High School, was joined by education assistant Angela Young and Hutchinson Bus Line driver Keith Enstad as she handed free meals out to parents and students who climbed from their vehicles. Though everyone approaching was careful to take their distance and come only a few at a time, the meal delivery team kept the atmosphere positive as they offered the day's meal of taco in a bag.

"People are really grateful we are doing this," Lewerenz said. "So many people need it."

The meal delivery 11-11:45 a.m. every school day represents the approach Hutchinson Public Schools took to delivering meals to students following an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz that closed schools around the state. The order was one of many Walz has made in response to COVID-19. Families can order student meals for the following day through the school and pick them up from the indicated site. Seven sites around Hutchinson were selected for meal delivery, but two more were added Tuesday as demand has grown and more employees signed up to help. Meals are prepared by school cooks and are available to all children age 18 and younger.

"They have done a fantastic job to get this up and running the way they did," said Hutchinson Public Schools Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden.

On the first day March 18, the service delivered about 300 meals. On Monday it was up to 1,382.

"It's grown every day," VanderHeiden said.

Hutchinson's public charter schools, New Discoveries Montessori Academy and New Century Academy, are also delivering meals for students. At NDMA, staff developed a plan to deliver meals to homes with help from Labraaten Bus Co. On March 18, 36 hours after the order from Walz was received, educators, kitchen staff and administrators loaded breakfasts and lunches for 225 students into five vans, along with 450 cartons of milk. Two NDMA couriers and two Labraaten drivers delivered the meals in four hours. After a review of the plan, the time was reduced to two hours the following day.

NDMA Associate Director Kirsten Kinzler said staff were in high spirits.

"Overall, everyone is positive," she said, "and willing to pitch in and do whatever it takes. We have a great staff here."

Schools still have more than meal delivery on their plate. Though schools were ordered closed until March 27, Walz instructed them to use the time to create plans to deliver education to students at home for a longer period of time if necessary. This week, schools moved forward to set their plans in motion. Schools prepared a combination of digital resources and physical materials. On Tuesday, curbside material pickup was available at Park Elementary, Hutchinson Middle School and the Transition Assistance Program building. On Wednesday, March 25, it's available at West Elementary and Hutchinson High School. Parents picking up materials were asked to stay inside their vehicles and wait for a staff member to approach.

NDMA is also combining online and physical learning materials, and exploring plans to provide Internet and digital devices to families who need it.

"We have plenty of technology here," Kinzler said. "It's just a matter of getting it to families."

HELPING CRITICAL WORKERS

All around Hutchinson, residents who can work from home are doing so to help promote social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19. But not everyone has that luxury.

Among those still facing the public are health care workers, first responders, law enforcement and others deemed "critical to the state's response." They, and "essential" workers, such as educators, utility workers and food distribution workers, qualify for assistance from day care services Walz ordered schools to provide.

Sgt. Andy Erlandson of the Hutchinson Police Department is one worker benefiting from the 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. service. Two of his children, age 9 and 6, are enrolled in the program at Hutchinson Public Schools.

"If it wasn't an option for my family I would have to stay at home," Erlandson said. "My wife is a nurse, so we're both essential employees."

The children are dropped off at Park Elementary, and the service has been easy for him to use.

Michael Scott, Hutchinson Public Schools director of teaching and learning, said the school is following social distancing practices, keeping students from congregating too close and using five rooms to make sure not to have too many students together at once. Activities for the students — kindergarten age through age 12 — are rotated throughout the day so they don't spend the day doing one thing. One activity involves playground time.

"The staff did an awesome job in less than two days getting this organized, staffed and scheduled," Scott said. "I stop by three to four times a day. ... It's really amazing how it looks just like a school day."

The school nurse provides staff with up-to-date information on best safety and health practices, and instructs maintenance staff on the best methods to keep the school disinfected throughout the day.

The school also takes the temperature of kids in the day care twice daily. Those who may be sick must stay home.

"Just like during a normal school day," Scott said.

On Monday morning, Hutchinson Public Schools' service had 50 children. NDMA also had one family with a parent working in emergency services using the day care offering two days this week, and an essential worker sending a child every day.

VanderHeiden said it is unclear how the schools' services would be impacted if Walz makes a shelter-in-place order.


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Local businesses could benefit from emergency loan program

Hutchinson has almost 50 restaurants, 20 hair salons and numerous massage therapy practices and athletic facilities. In the midst of Minnesota's COVID-19 response, they and many other businesses are facing hardships.

An executive order from Gov. Tim Walz this past week called for restaurants and recreation and exercise facilities to close their doors. Other businesses made changes or ceased operations to promote social distancing, but such moves come with an economic toll. Another order announced Monday aims to provide relief.

"Federal loan programs don't move fast enough," Walz said in a press conference Monday.

He directed the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to create an emergency loan program to help Minnesota small business owners bridge the gap. The order makes available $30 million from special revenue funds. These dollars will be used by DEED’s lender network to provide between $2,500 and $35,000 for qualifying small businesses. The loans will be 50 percent forgivable and offered at a 0 percent interest rate. If other financing becomes available to small businesses that received an emergency loan, such as federal funding, the emergency loan must be repaid.

"This is a big help to people," said Mary Hodson, president of the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

"I think the need is going to be pretty significant," said Miles Seppelt, Hutchinson's economic development director. "With beauty salons, fitness locations and restaurants, it gets to be quite a high number pretty quick."

DEED loans are expected to be available by the end of the week. There are numerous ways local businesses can find more information:

  • Questions about the DEED emergency loan program can be directed to ELP@state.mn.us. Find more information and an application at tinyurl.com/ulaadqg.
  • Learn more about the SBA loans at tinyurl.com/vtbr6u8.
  • The Chamber is maintaining a list of business resources at tinyurl.com/uucmyp6.
  • The Chamber also has a list of business changes at tinyurl.com/va4hsgk.
  • The Hutchinson Economic Development Authority has a list of business resources at hutchinsoneda.com/covid-19/.

Many businesses can already apply for disaster loan funds administered through the Small Business Administration. Small and mid-sized businesses can apply to the SBA for loans of up to 30 years with 3.75 percent interest rates. For nonprofits, the rate is 2.75 percent. But, as Walz said, the process may take awhile.

"It's going to take some time to get processed," Hodson said. "(The DEED loan) helps them be able to get money quicker to keep people working or keep businesses afloat until those (federal) government funds come."


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Minnesota could have 10X to 100X more coronavirus cases than tests show, officials say. Because few are being tested.

Minnesota likely has more than 10 times as many coronavirus cases than the official numbers reported, health officials said Saturday.

In fact, it’s possible the state has 100 times more COVID-19 cases, according to the state’s top infectious disease official.

That would mean it’s possible that close to 14,000 Minnesotans have been or are currently infected. Presumably a large portion have mild or even nonexistent symptoms, but could still be spreading the virus.

“Obviously, tenfold sounds like a lot, but it could be as high as 100-fold,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for the Minnesota Department of Health, on Saturday. “That’s why it’s so important to take the community mitigation seriously.”

Ehresmann’s remarks, in response to a reporter’s question, signify the way health experts here and across the nation are viewing the pandemic’s spread as governors and others consider placing the most severe restrictions on society since World War II.

Their vision acknowledges a feature of many pandemics, but one that is especially so in the current state of America: The shortages of testing, both for the infected and the healthy, has led to a dearth of data that has resulted in the public routinely digesting numbers that are far below the reality of the virus’ infiltration.

262 ‘CONFIRMED’ CASES

Officially, Minnesota had 262 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, including its first death on Saturday. Emphasis on “confirmed.” Those are only the cases the state can verify via laboratory testing. Those are the numbers the CDC receives.

Each day around 11 a.m., the Department of Health releases the latest results from testing at state and private labs, and those numbers top the agenda in an afternoon conference call with journalists. Ehresmann and other officials routinely emphasize the actual numbers of infected are greater. She’s uttered “tip of the iceberg” at least twice in recent days.

Nonetheless, those official numbers often lead the evening news and are featured in headlines in newspaper and online stories.

But the numbers are limited by how much testing is actually being done.

For a number of reasons — from federal delays at the onset to global supply chain interruptions last week — testing has been relatively scant.

In Minnesota for the past week, tests have been rationed for only those in highest need: medical workers, hospitalized patients, and residents of communal living facilities, especially nursing homes.

And, Ehresmann acknowledged earlier this week, even some in those groups have been denied tests. The situation has led to a backlog of samples that have been frozen. Some 1,700 samples sat frozen at one point last week.

MODELS PREDICT FAR MORE CORONAVIRUS CASES

In the meantime, statisticians and epidemiologists have resorted to forecast models that take known properties of the virus — often drawn from countries that have employed far wider testing — and try to figure out how widespread the virus really is, and what it will do next.

The models are based on assumptions that are inherently uncertain, experts caution. As they predict the future, they attempt to allow for “community mitigation” measures, such as social distancing, business and school closures, and other measures, bringing in more uncertainty.

One model released Friday by Columbia University suggests that nationwide, there are 11 times more cases than the figures officially reported by laboratory-confirmed tests, according to the New York Times, which provided Columbia researchers its own database of every reported case. Researchers used Census data and travel patterns before the outbreak to reach some of their conclusions, the paper reported.

The conclusions supported the notion that the time to enact stringent measures — perhaps including sheltering in place — is closer than the official numbers might suggest.

The model shows the virus rapidly becoming widespread along the coasts, peaking in May, before it envelopes the midsection of America, including Minnesota. It suggests a narrow window for Minnesota to enact strict measures to reduce the degree to which hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed in the coming months. It remains unclear how Minnesota’s current restrictions might be faring.

MINNESOTA MODEL COMING

Minnesota officials have been developing their own model, and on Saturday Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said they hope to have some projections available “next week.”

When asked about Columbia’s 11-times figure, Ehresmann said, “That’s probably a conservative estimate.”

Minnesota’s modelers, she said, are grappling with the fact that “we don’t have that much data,” and are turning toward other indicators, such as reporting of flu-like illnesses, and hospitalization numbers.

Malcolm noted that the lack of data from testing shouldn’t change anyone’s behavior. People should heed the current restrictions, and as the pandemic grows, the advice remains the same: If you’re sick with symptoms like fever or cough, contact your doctor and quarantine yourself at home unless you need medical assistance.

Ehresmann noted that as Minnesota’s hospitalization and death toll mounts, that will provide modelers with data that will help them project how widespread the number of infected people really are.

As an area progresses deeper into a pandemic, testing becomes less useful, as it’s assumed the virus is everywhere, and treating the sick becomes paramount.