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Umpire Mark Zallek gets ready to make the safe call as St. Peter’s Alex Hoehn scores the final run before the tag of Prior Lake Jays catcher Tommy Keating on a two-RBI single by Sam Wenner in the seventh inning last summer. (Pat Beck/St. Peter Herald)

Faribault Walmart temporarily closes for cleaning following COVID-19 cases

After a couple of positive COVID-19 cases appeared in employees, the Walmart Supercenter located on Western Avenue in Faribault closed at 2 p.m. for a deep cleaning and sanitizing from a third party company.

Lisa Nelson, the director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart in Minnesota, said that the company’s decision was based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We can’t comment on the cases in our stores for the protection of our associates, but this is based on advice from the local public health,” Nelson said, confirming that the decision to close for additional cleaning is directly related to COVID-19. “We are taking whatever measures necessary to protect the people coming into our store.”

Nelson said that the Faribault Walmart will remain closed until 7 a.m. Sunday to allow appropriate time for the cleaning, sanitizing, and restocking of the facility.

According to Nelson, this is part of a company-wide initiative to properly clean and sanitize Walmart stores across the nation based on a case-by-case scenario regarding COVID-19. Recently, Nelson said they implemented the same program at the Walmart located in St. Cloud.

“All of our stores are being cleaned on a regular bases, we’ve even changed the hours of operation in our 24-hour stores to allow for cleaning to occur in the evening hours at every location,” Nelson said. “We are monitoring all of our stores on a case-by-case basis to provide the proper cleaning and safety measures based on advice from experts.”

According to Deb Purfeerst, the director of Rice County Public Health, there has been at least a handful of Walmart staff who have recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a part of their business outreach program, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Public Health reached out to the business on Wednesday to begin working through the proper procedures and providing additional resources.

“We want to make sure that we are in touch with all businesses if they have any questions or cases of COVID-19,” said Tracy Ackman-Shaw. “I will say that [Walmart] has a good screening process for their employees and are already very attentive to their needs. They are doing things correctly.”

Ackman-Shaw said that they guidance to temporarily close a facility for deep cleaning when a positive case of COVID-19 occurs among staff comes from the Minnesota Department of Health, but that Rice County Public Health openly supports any business that feels they should take that course of action.

“We will encourage businesses that if they feel it is necessary that they should close to clean and disinfect, but every business is going to have a different tipping point on when they want or feel that is necessary,” Ackman-Shaw said. “It’s always good when a company decides to do that because it helps everybody’s public health and safety. It is a big expense and cost to not be open for sales, but for the general public I think it helps boost confidence for their shoppers to come back. It all makes a difference.”

Ackman-Shaw said that the staff at Walmart did request additional education materials on COVID-19 and how to prevent the spread that can be posted throughout the facility, something she said they are happy to supply and have available in three different languages.

“It’s just always good to have reminders out there that when you’re in public places it’s encouraged to wear a mask, to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and to not touch your face,” Ackman-Shaw said. “Keep in mind that six-feet social distancing, and when you’re shopping people tend to want to touch things and pick them up, so maybe really think through that ‘if I’m going to touch it I’m going to guy it.’ Being conscious when shopping and minimizing the number of things you are touching makes a big difference in helping to prevent the spread.”

Another victim: Salvation Army Family Store closes its doors

Another victim of COVID-19 has been claimed, this one reverberating throughout the region’s low-income community.

The Salvation Army Northern Division announced Friday the permanent closing of four “Family Store” thrift stores in outstate Minnesota — including the one located on Western Avenue in Faribault — due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The other store locations are in Cloquet, Morris, and Fairmount.

The closures saying effective immediately, with the Faribault location shuttering early Friday morning. Signs were posted at both the front and the back of the building stating that they were officially out of business and encouraging people to contact their case worker if they’re in need of emergency assistance.

For store manager Jennifer Velardi, the announcement was heartbreaking, but not a surprise.

“We’ve been closed for six weeks,” Velardi said. “But really with the Goodwill opening a block from us — that was a big hit in our budget from the moment they opened.”

Goodwill Industries International is a nonprofit organization with the money its thrift stores make going towards community programs such as job training, placement services, and classes for people who have disabilities or are otherwise challenged in finding traditional employment.

For Velardi, one of the most difficult parts of closing the store is not knowing where customers with limited resources, but who are in need of essential items will go for help. Velardi said that it wasn’t uncommon for the store to write vouchers for those who couldn’t afford necessary items such as winter clothing.

“The great thing about the Salvation Army was that if you really needed something and couldn’t afford it that we’d write you vouchers,” Velardi said. “If kids came in that didn’t have winter coats and their parents couldn’t afford them, I would just give them to them. I’m not about to have kids going to school in the middle of winter without a jacket.”

According to a news release, the decision to close these stores is a result of the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the restrictive retail climate being anticipated in the post-pandemic environment. As a result, 19 part-time and full-time positions are being phased out. In Faribault, the employees include Velardi and five others, as well as several volunteers.

“This is the type of decision that is tough to make because it has an impact on staff and the communities we serve,” said Lt. Colonel Lonneal Richardson, commander of The Salvation Army Northern Division. “Because of the lost revenue from being closed and the challenging retail environment ahead, these stores would not be financially viable in the COVID-19 era.”

Richard also made it clear that these store closings would not affect the social service programs operated by the Salvation Army in these communities. Food distributions, emergency assistance, and other social services will continue unabated in their current locations except for Faribault, whose social service office will operate out of the Owatonna location until a new Faribault location is selected.

Cathy Thielbar, the case manager for the Salvation Army in both Rice and Steele counties, said that she hopes to get set up at a local church once she is able to return to Faribault. In the meantime, however, she will continue to take on Rice County cases as usual.

“I am definitely concerned not being in Faribault because a lot of the people that we serve come to the store on a bus as they don’t have transportation,” Thielbar said. “It’s going to be hard and I don’t know what we’re going to do about that population — there is a high amount of people in Rice County that are very low income.”

Thielbar hopes that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Faribault will be able to assist some of the clients she normally served until she is able to reopen an office in the community.

A representative from St. Vincent de Paul assisted store staff Friday to help move whatever inventory the society could use to its Third Avenue NW location. The remainder of the inventory will be sent to the Owatonna store and wherever else individuals in need could access them, according to Velardi.

“It’s just so sad that we won’t be here for the people,” Velardi said. “The store that actually helps people is the one that is closing.”

In this Friday, May 1 photo, medical workers test a local resident at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Waterloo, Iowa. As testing has increased, Public Health directors in Rice and Steele counties say so have the number of confirmed cases. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Memorial Day observed from a social distance this year

Memorial Day honors those who died while protecting this country. But this year, for the sake of protecting veterans and their supporters, the holiday will be observed at a distance.

Faribault usually celebrates Memorial Day with a 10 a.m. parade, followed by a ceremony at Central Park and lunch at the Faribault American Legion. As a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic this year, all usual plans, including a service at the Cannon City Cemetery, have been cancelled. The one exception is a short ceremony at 10 a.m. at Central Park.

The Rice County Central Veterans Association Honor Guard and Color Guard will be present at the ceremony, but members will be spaced 6 feet apart. Those attending the ceremony are instructed to park on both sides of the street and stay inside their vehicles while honoring the veterans.

“We want to honor the veterans, but we don’t want to get anybody sick,” said John McDonough, a U.S. Air Force veteran and president of the Rice County Central Veterans Association. “Last year, we got rained out. We had everything down at the American Legion, so we were kind of looking forward to having a big one this year. I agree with the restrictions … but I don’t like the idea of not honoring the veterans at all, so that’s why we decided to do what we’re doing.”

McDonough pointed out that he and other veterans fall into the age group of those most susceptible to contracting the virus, so he hopes those in attendance abide by the rule of staying inside their vehicles.

The short ceremony will include a rifle shot and McDonough reading the names of recently deceased local veterans. Fr. Tom Niehaus of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Shieldsville will deliver the opening prayer and benediction. Gordy Kosfeld of KDHL radio will emcee the event, which will be broadcast on KDHL 920 AM and livestreamed on The Mighty 920 KDHL Facebook page.

Other local services

Northfielders will have the chance to view its annual Memorial Day address online Monday.

The service, forced to an online-only format to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to be available starting at 11 a.m. on the city’s YouTube channel, bit.ly/3e0emej.

The shortened ceremony will include a reading of the names of Northfield-area soldiers who served from May 1, 2019 to May 1, 2020 as well as those who died during that time. Keith Beckwith, VFW chaplain, will conduct an invocation and benediction. VFW commander Kevin Larson will then present an address.

Instead of holding its traditional Memorial Day parade in Medford, township officials have honored veterans by placing wreaths at local veteran monuments and cemeteries. Some members of the Medford City Council and VFW will observe small services Saturday at the South Main Street and Freedom Park memorials, but the general community is asked to honor veterans privately, at home.

At 9 a.m. in Wanamingo, some members of the American Legion and VFW will assemble at the POW/MIA Memorial located in the center of the Wanamingo Veterans Day Memorial. A short program will involve placing roses on the memorial, a rifle salute, the playing of taps, and lowering and raising the colors to full staff.

Following the program at the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial, another short program will take place at Riverside Park at 9:30 a.m. Some members of Wanamingo Boy Scout Troop 76 will lead the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an honor roll of the fallen. A rose will be dropped in the river to remember those lost at sea. A rifle salute and taps will conclude the program.

A Memorial Day parade will process around the neighborhoods of Kenyon beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Kenyon Veterans Color Guard President Mike (Mac) McDonald says they will gather at the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School parking lot, head west on Sixth Street and work their way through the streets of Kenyon, with the exception of construction zones.

“I know Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, but I think people need something to lift their spirits,” said McDonald. “If you want to partake in the parade, you can either drive your car and stay in your car, or even in a golf cart if it’s a nice day.”

The parade will be led by the Kenyon Police Department, followed by four Kenyon Veterans Color Guard members on a 14-foot trailer, which will wind up at Kenyon Veterans Park, where a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps will take place.

Participants are urged to main social distancing and relax in their own front yard to pay respect to those who gave all in the service of the country. Although there won’t be a program at the Kenyon Cemetery this year, flags will still be placed on the graves of veterans in and around Kenyon.

In Lonsdale, the Lonsdale American Legion Honor Guard will hold a memorial ceremony at 9 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church Cemetery in Veseli, 9:30 a.m. at Trondhjem Cemetery and at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Cemetery.

Because of COVID-19, and per Gov. Tim Walz’s orders for Minnesota, there will not be a ceremony at the Lonsdale Area Veterans Memorial. Anyone attending the cemetery tributes is instructed to stay in their vehicles.