Dialing phone

When Sue Griep recently returned from an overseas trip, she immediately isolated herself in her Hutchinson home, figuring it was the right thing to do with the coronavirus pandemic breaking out.

“I have been self-quarantined since I returned from Ireland even though I have no fever and feel great,” she said March 24. “I felt I should do this because I live at the Village Cooperative. It is ‘active, independent’ living, but we have many in their 80s and 90s and some are compromised. I would feel horrible if I was the cause of anyone getting ill. Thankfully, it will be 14 days on Friday so I can breathe easier then.”

Griep is among hundreds — perhaps thousands — of McLeod County residents who sought refuge in their homes before Gov. Tim Walz ordered it March 25. Their goals: Cut off physical contact with others in an effort to stem spread of the virus. In place of coffee clutches that normally bond these neighbors and friends, they are turning to technology and other means to keep in touch and lead lives as normally as possible.

Though Griep is alone, she doesn’t feel lonely. She said she “goes to” St. Anastasia Church’s daily Mass, which is streamed live on the internet. Via social media, she said “I pray the Rosary daily at 3 with my Ireland Travel group. It gives me peace, and feels like we are doing this together. Plus, there is the advantage of going to church in your pajamas.”

Griep is a member of Hutchinson Connects, an informal group of residents who promote activities and events such as One Book, One Community and National Night Out, all with the goal of bringing people together. The group is part of the former Heart of Hutch and is affiliated with Hutchinson Health’s health and well-being efforts.

Promoting togetherness during an international health crisis is something new for Hutchinson Connects. Members of the group said they want local residents to maintain their bonds, but do it safely by complying with government guidelines that encourage social distancing.

Griep said she appreciates how people are using technology and other means to keep socially connected.

“I have heard of many enjoying a virtual happy hour with friends and family,” she said. “And I saw a family that went to a nursing home to celebrate Grandpa’s birthday. But they stayed outside, and he was inside, so they celebrated through the window.”

Hutchinson Connects member Bonnie Fimon, who is single, is part of the government’s definition of a “vulnerable population” — she’s older than 70 — and has been adhering to guidelines to stay home and away from others.

“As a single person, I’m pretty comfortable being alone,” she said. “I do a lot of reading and actually took some time to clean up my pantry.”

After recently returning home from a winter stay in Arizona, she said she would normally have seen relatives and friends.

“But obviously not this year,” she said. “I have made a point to actually talk to them on the phone rather than use texts. A friend who picked up my recycle bags brought them over but stayed in the lawn while I was on my porch so we could talk. I also took a friend some chili but left it at her door and let her know it was there.”

Griep said she’s heard stories of Hutchinson residents being creative while respecting the new guidelines.

“A friend told me that neighbors in her Ottawa Street neighborhood were meeting in a neighbor’s driveway to gather 6 feet apart for a visit,” she said. “They had a small fire pit, and everyone brought their own lawn chair and coffee.”

While Fimon likes that idea, she reminds people to maintain our distance. She cited a recent New York Times story that encourages people to “limit close contact, indoors and outdoors, to family members only. This means no dinner parties, no play dates, no birthday parties with a few friends.”

Heavy use of antiseptic wipes and other cleansers are also encouraged, including when a family member or friend drops something off at your home.

Evie Swanson with Hutchinson Connects said the recent spring warm-up has made the new restrictions on socializing more tolerable.

“On the bright side, we are no longer in the depths of a bitterly cold winter, so for me the most helpful thing I can do is to get outside and walk around,” she said. “When I do that, I not only feel better myself, but I nearly always find someone in the neighborhood to communicate with.

“It seems like we’re all hungry for human contact, and when we're outdoors — especially if it’s a nice day — we can enjoy cheery hellos or even a brief chat while still maintaining appropriate social distance. That's always a day brightener for most people. It’s also a good time to find out if someone in the neighborhood has a special need and could use a helping hand — perhaps someone to pick up groceries or medicine in some cases.”

Swanson has noticed one other silver living to the dark pandemic cloud.

“We are able to communicate electronically with one another in ways that hadn’t even been dreamed of in some past pandemics,” she said. “Reaching out to friends and family via phone, Facebook, Instagram, etc. certainly helps to stay connected. Also we can use these mediums or just plain old letter writing to let health care workers know that the risks and sacrifices they make are especially appreciated.”

Becky Felling said the pandemic has made her more grateful for all she has. “Two times a day, I mentally list all of the things that I am thankful for,” she said.

Mary Henke, who chairs Hutchinson Connects, came up with a short list of ideas for those who are alone at home:

  • Have a virtual story time with grandkids to give their parents a break.
  • Make an extra donation to the McLeod Emergency Food Shelf, Common Cup or any nonprofit being challenged to meet growing needs.
  • Buy a gift card at a local business or restaurant (when and where possible) to be used in the future to help them get through their closings.
  • Call one or two people you would ordinarily see each week just to check in with them.

Sue Griep said she is using her time alone to learn German online, all free courtesy of the Duolingo App. And she’s staying mindful of her physical health.

“Of course,” she said, “a daily walk outside is a must.”

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