The 2020-21 school year has been anything but typical. While Hutchinson students have had to make sacrifices due to COVID-19, one thing they’re not giving up is homecoming.
It’s Winter Homecoming week at Hutchinson High School, a change from most years when Homecoming is celebrated in fall. The theme this year, of course, is “Can’t mask our spirit.” While COVID restrictions limit some of the activities students and the public can participate in, there’s still plenty happening at the HHS this week.
The fun started last week with a kick-off video and the announcement of this year’s Homecoming Court. And then the dress-up days began with Neon Day Monday, Beach Day Tuesday, College Day Wednesday, Class Color Day Thursday and Tiger Spirit Day Friday.
Along with the dress-up days, students are participating in several other activities such as a weeklong bean bag tournament, a food drive collection, a virtual parade Thursday, and, of course, Homecoming coronation Friday.
While the public is not able to participate in many of the activities, people can play along with online alumni trivia. Just follow @stuco_hutch or @HutchActivities on Twitter to test your knowledge with daily trivia questions. Members of the public can also watch the virtual parade by following those same Twitter accounts.
It may have been a year of unplanned circumstances, but there is one thing you can count on — Girl Scout cookies. It's time to feed your cookie craving while supporting young entrepreneurs.
While everyone can look forward to their favorites such as Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs, new this year is Toast-Ya. It's a French toast-inspired cookie dipped in icing and full of flavor. And in case you're a S'mores fan, buy plenty because this is the last year this sweet treat will be offered.
Despite restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a variety of ways to buy cookies this year during the selling period through April 2. Options include online and in-person sales. According to Sarah Smith, service manager for Hutchinson, all the girls have access to participate in online sales.
“The girls can send emails to their friends and families to either direct ship to them or choose girl delivered,” she said. “The girls can also share their special link on their parents' social media pages. We also have contactless payment options for ordering at booths. We have a QR code that customers scan with their phone then enter in their credit card information.”
Smith has been a troop leader and service unit manager for three years. Prior to that, she volunteered. She was familiar with Girl Scouts as she was a member while growing up in Lester Prairie. She became more involved when her daughter, Abby, expressed interest in joining.
SALES TIPS FROM SUPER SELLERS
If you enjoy buying your cookies directly from a Girl Scout, you're in luck because they will be selling door to door as well as at Walmart, Cash Wise and Goodwill. See sidebar for schedule.
In 2019, the Hutchinson Service Unit, which included seven troops and 50 girls, sold 12,772 packages of cookies. In 2020, eight troops and 51 girls sold 12,715 packages — not bad considering last year's sale was cut short by two weeks.
The 2020 top sellers were:
Luthens was No. 1 in local cookie sales in 2020. She credits her success to using all the selling options the Girls Scouts give them: business to business, door to door, online, family, friends, school and cookie booths.
The Park Elementary fifth-grader's sales strategy this year is based on experience: “I will sell the same way this year as I did last year,” she said. “Last year my goal was 550 and I ended up selling 1,000. This year, I kept my goal at 550 because I wasn't sure how COVID would affect everything.”
One change the pandemic has brought is Girl Scouts are now accepting credit card payments without having a fee charged back to the troop. They will also be following COVID health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing.
The best part of selling cookies is the opportunity to spend the money. Luthens said her troop is working on their bronze award to turn an area of Girl Scout Park into a butterfly garden. They also are planning a fun field trip if COVID allows.
Abby Smith, a fourth-grader at Park Elementary who placed fourth in 2020, has set an ambitious goal this year: 850 boxes of cookies. She set the bar high because she needs to sell at least 550 boxes to pay for camp, plus she chose 825 packages for the prize she can earn from the council — a frozen dessert maker.
When it comes to sales strategy, Smith is sticking with the tried and true.
"I try to go to every house in my neighborhood the first two weeks of the sale," she said. "I look back at my records from the last year and contact the customers to see if they would like to purchase cookies again. I also try to work as many cookie booths as possible."
An added incentive for Smith and her troop members is their after-sales plans, which include paying for camp and a troop event that includes a visit to a water park and a pizza party.
Ruby Hoff placed fifth in 2020 cookie sales. She expects to do more door-to-door sales this year to meet her personal goal of selling 550 boxes.
The Park Elementary fourth-grader said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she'll be wearing a mask and all cookie booths will be outdoors. As far as spending the money they raise, Hoff said they aren't sure yet what their future plans will be.
HOW THE COOKIE CRUMBLES
Cookies cost $5 per box. According to Smith, 22%, about $1 per box, of the money earned goes toward troop proceeds and rewards; 54% goes to the council and is invested in the girls through programs, properties, volunteer support and training, financial assistance and council services; and 24% goes towards the Girl Scout cookie program and baker costs.
Troops use their portion of the money earned to pay for supplies for meetings and the badges that the girls earned. Each troop also has a reward event where the girls choose activities such as going to the Hutchinson Aquatic Center, Minnesota Zoo, Paint Factory and so on.
"The leaders let the girls decide what they would like to do and then we give them a goal to sell so we make sure we can afford the activity," Sarah Smith said. "Some girls use the money to go to Girl Scout Camp in the summer. I have eight girls in my troop that are registered to go to camp this summer. They are very excited to go since last year’s camp was canceled."
A total of 49 girls are enrolled in Girl Scouts, ranging from kindergarten to ninth grade. Hopefully, this year's cookie sale will be different from 2020.
“In March, our cookies season came to an abrupt halt due to COVID,” Smith said. “The girls were disappointed that they could not keep selling to hit their goals. We also had to figure out what to do with all the unsold cookies.
"Girl Scout River Valleys Council decided to have us donate the unsold cookies to places around our community," she continued. "Some of the places that were chosen were Harmony River Living Center, Ecumen Oaks & Pines, Hutchinson Health and the staff at Hutchinson Public Schools.”
The pandemic also impacted meetings. Smith said they had to adapt. For instance, when school was in distance learning, the troops met via Zoom virtual meetings.
“The Girl Scout River Valleys Council purchased a Zoom license for each troop in the council,” she said. “I know most of our troops just resumed having our in-person meetings within the last few weeks.”
McLeod County may be asked to send officers to assist in security during the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Sheriff Tim Langenfeld discussed the matter with the County Board Feb. 16, and presented a mutual aid agreement between his office and Minneapolis. Board members approved the agreement, which assures the county will be reimbursed for assistance it provides. It does not commit the county to provide aid.
"They have asked almost all the law enforcement agencies that are willing to send staff if they can to fill out and agree to the same agreements," Langenfeld said. "It's important for people to understand that I have not made a decision that we will send staff. ... We are experiencing our own staffing issues within the sheriff's office, so the number of people, because of the timeline they would want them, we may not be able to meet."
The March 8 trial is in regards to second-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Chauvin, who is accused of killing George Floyd. The incident created public outrage last May when it was revealed Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey recently announced up to 2,000 National Guard members and 1,100 law enforcement officers will be activated by the time a verdict is reached. A security perimeter is already being established around the Hennepin County Government Center, City Hall and nearby buildings.
Langenfeld said Minneapolis asked what training McLeod County officers had, and what aid they would be able to provide.
"Our staff would be (able) to assist the sheriff in protecting the county assets, which would be the Government Center, the jail, the communications center and other areas the sheriff or the county need protected," he said. "Last summer, some of those areas were breached, and they have a pretty solid plan on what to do to make that not happen again."
McLeod County officers would not roam the streets or respond to hot spots.
Board Member Nathan Schmalz was at first hesitant about the mutual aid agreement, in part due to staffing shortages in the McLeod County Sheriff's Office.
"I'm looking at protecting the citizens of McLeod County and my district," he said. "I would not be comfortable putting any of our McLeod County deputies in harm's way down in Minneapolis."
He also raised concerns regarding reimbursement, as he had learned some entities were still awaiting reimbursement from last May.
McLeod County Attorney Michael Junge said McLeod County has relied on other agencies in the past to provide specialized skills when needed, such as for a bomb squad.
"It's important that law enforcement work in as holistic a form as possible," Junge said.
Board Member Joe Nagel agreed.
"The reimbursement is important to fund this, but obviously I have a biased opinion," he said, referencing his work as a Hutchinson police officer. "When you are asking for help, when another cop is asking for help, you go. And that's what they're asking for. The sheriff will make a decision if it makes sense to send our staff, depending on the needs. He is not going to leave ... McLeod County coverage empty. There are other law enforcement agencies that can help supplement county activities within the county. It makes sense, if the need is there, and the sheriff has the discretion to send people, and he thinks it's the best move, we aught to give that to him."
Nagel made the motion to approve the agreement, which Board Member Paul Wright seconded. Schmalz said he felt his concerns had been addressed during the discussion, and agreed to support the motion, which passed unanimously.
Roughly 13% of McLeod County residents had received at least one of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination as of this past week.
"That is more than the people who have tested positive for COVID-19," McLeod County Health and Human Services Director Berit Spors told county commissioners. "We are starting to get on the right side of things here."
In 13 invite-only vaccination clinics, the county has focused on vaccinating health care workers, and moved on to vaccinating educators and child care providers. One of those clinics was Saturday, Feb. 13, to accommodate teaching schedules. Another on Thursday, Feb. 18, administered 91 second doses.
County workers had hoped to administer more vaccines last week, but did not receive a new shipment for the week due to poor weather. The delay further compounds the frustrations of trying to administer vaccines and schedule clinics locally. Confirmation of supplies to the county often comes at the last minute.
As of Thursday, McLeod County had distributed more than 1,400 doses of vaccine. In addition, local hospitals have distributed at least 4,490 doses. At least 1,591 people have received both doses, following Thursday's clinic.
Since the start of the pandemic, McLeod County has had 3,359 confirmed cases, according to state data available Monday morning. Roughly two weeks prior there had been a total of 3,311, indicating the increase in cases has slowed since its spike late last year. Local deaths have reached 49.
A few weeks ago, health officials had hoped to see a more significant focus on vaccinations for residents age 65 or older, a population considered to be the most vulnerable. State data shows that as of Monday, at least one dose of the vaccine had been distributed to 39.8% of residents age 65 or older in McLeod County. Many counties are ahead on that figure, including nearby Meeker County (43.5%), neighboring Renville County (47.6%), Pope County to the west (45.8%), Murray County to the southwest (45.8%) and metropolitan Hennepin County (45.1%). Statewide, the figure is 41.7%.
Spors said she is aware of the disparity.
"We're really at the mercy of the federal government, to be honest, and what comes to the state," she said. "They have an equation for allocation. We just need more vaccine."
Other counties, she said, are receiving more doses and are able to vaccinate more people. Population plays a factor in supply sent to counties, but a portion of vaccines are redirected to regional vaccination centers as well, and counties near those centers are seeing higher rates. The nearest center, Spors said, is in St. Cloud, which is in Stearns County. There, 51% of residents age 65 or older had received a vaccination as of Monday morning.
Health care providers are also receiving varying vaccine doses. Hutchinson Health, which is part of Health Partners, receives more doses. But smaller providers receive less. Overall, the disparity means other counties are lagging behind even further than McLeod County. Neighboring Sibley County's vaccination rate for residents age 65 or older was 33.2% Monday morning. Faribault County on Minnesota's southern border had a rate of 33% Thursday. Kandiyohi County was at 38.7 percent Monday.
According to a metric used by Minnesota, McLeod County is beating expectations when it comes to distributing what vaccines it has. The state calls for 90% of vaccines received in each county to be administered within three days. As of this past week, McLeod County had administered 96% of vaccines received within three days of their arrival.
TOOLS TO STAY UPDATED
The county announced Tuesday that it will begin offering the COVID-19 vaccine for people age 65 or older starting next week. A press release said the online registration link will be posted at tinyurl.com/3yxcp44f at 9 a.m. Monday, March 1, and the clinic will happen 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 2, at the McLeod County Government Center at 520 Chandler Ave. N., Glencoe.
If you don't have internet access, you can call 320-864-3185 for more information. Walk-in appointments will not be accepted.
Residents who receive a dose of the vaccine will receive the second dose 28 days later. A second appointment will be scheduled during the first appointment.
Once an appointment is made, residents may use Trailblazer Transit to receive a free ride. Caretakers and children may also ride along at no cost. Residents should call Trailblazer at 888-743-3828 to schedule the ride after a vaccination appointment is scheduled. Rides are limited to bus availability, but the schedule may be expanded if needed. Masks and social distancing are required on buses.
Future vaccination clinics will typically be Tuesdays and Thursdays, but there may be some variation depending on how many doses are available to the county. Watch the county's website at tinyurl.com/3yxcp44f for more information.
Updates for Hutchinson Health can be found at tinyurl.com/44olprkk, at tinyurl.com/ako55h4t for Glencoe Regional Health, and at tinyurl.com/1ai7w1u2 for Ridgeview. A state map with vaccine distributors can be found at tinyurl.com/uoogmqnt.
Last week, Minnesota launched its vaccine connector to try and clarify when and where vaccines are available. Find it at mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/connector/.