Celebrating Earth Day is going to be a solo activity this year.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing Americans to stay at home, celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 have been scrapped. But that doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t get out and do their part to take care of the planet.
This year’s Earth Day theme is climate action, as climate change continues to be the biggest challenge to the systems that make the world habitable.
According to the Earth Day website, “today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy changes.”
We asked local experts to share ideas on how to celebrate Earth Day while practicing social distancing. Here’s what they had to say:
Reducing your carbon footprint
David Anderson, co-coordinator of Live Well Goodhue County, a local initiative of the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, recommends two ways for people to do their part in helping reduce their carbon footprint or the amount of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere by a particular human activity. Through Live Well Goodhue County, Anderson says, the initiative works to improve the health of residents by making it easier to be active, eat nutritious foods and live tobacco free.
To help reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, Anderson urges residents to walk or bike instead of jumping in the car, and to start a garden or lease a plot available in a community garden to increase the amount of local produce and products.
Faribault GROWS (Gardeners Reaching Out With Service) Club had planned the grand opening of a pollinator photo exhibit for Earth Day, but GROWS co-founder Pauline Schreiber said the exhibit was postponed one year. GROWS had worked with Faribault Parks and Recreation to plan the exhibit at the Buckham Center in the hallways between the library and the community center.
Schreiber said the pollinator committee continues to promote awareness of the need for planting eggplants and other plants that bees and other pollinators need to flourish.
GROWS also plans an annual Arbor Day celebration May 2, but Schreiber predicts a public ceremony will not be held in conjunction with the tree planting this year.
Locally in Kenyon, there are five raised boxes near First Lutheran Church in addition to the 10 by 20 feet plots near Trondheim Park, all available for rental during the growing season. Plots found within Torkelson Park on the north end of Nelson Drive and Fifth Street East in Wanamingo are also available.
Anderson says ideas can be as simple as pledging to be automobile free for the day or reducing the amount of water used by turning the water off while lathering up in the shower.
Kenyon Park and Rec posted a reminder on its Facebook page suggesting residents visit local parks, lakes or walkways to collect a garbage bag or two of litter to make a difference.
Kenyon-Wanamingo graduate Corissa Kern also encourages everyone to pick up litter, nothing that it was something she “loved” doing when she was younger.
“With the weather nice now and not being able to be near people, it’s a great thing to do,” added Kern.
Cannon River Watershed Partnership’s Community Engagement Coordinator Kevin Strauss also recommends cleaning out storm water drains in residential neighborhoods clogged with leaves and grass. While those two items are natural, Strauss says since storm water drains have a higher efficiency now, all leaves and grass are funneled directly into the river. The excessive decay of the large amount of those items can add carbon and nitrogen to the river through its decomposition, which can create algae blooms and harm the wildlife living in the water.
“We realize that clean water isn’t at the top of the list, it makes sense for pandemic to take top priority,” said Strauss. “If you live on a street with a storm drain, it’s a quick and easy thing you can do…a simple act of cleaning storm drains can be a huge help before the big spring rains come on Earth Day or any other day.”
Finding your connection to the earth
Kern, along with help from her older sister and mother, organized the annual Earth Extravaganza in Kenyon for four consecutive years. The event was aimed at helping people do their part in helping the environment in a fun way.
The main thing she promoted at her event in the past was making crafts out of recycled materials, noting that the options are endless of what can be made.
At the event, some activities for children included making a “jellyfish” from plastic and plates, as well as a T-shirt bag to carry everything home in. Decorated wine bottle lights and tin can candle holders were among the adult craft items.
Although the last Earth Extravaganza in Kenyon was held in 2018, Kern had plans — before the COVID-19 pandemic — to hold the event this year at her school, Winona State.
Kern says there are many things people can do with recycling that can encourage others, whether it be making a game out of it to see how many items can be gathered or finding a personal connection to the earth.
“Learn as much as you can about the earth, in some way, everyone’s interests relate back to the earth,” said Kern. “Finding that connection and exploring it is well worth it.”
Plugging in virtually
Strauss says the Northfield Earth Day group is hosting many activities Saturday, April 25, in celebration of Earth Day. Each event will be held virtually or in a setting which provides plenty of space to spread out. Previously, Strauss says there was a plan to have various workshops people can participate in, but since then had to switch gears to hold live presentations online.
CRWP will host one of those presentations on clean water and friendly lawn care. Some other presentations featured throughout the day will be on the topics of curbside composting, geothermal systems, climate action scenarios, community solar gardens and climate action and pollinator conservation.
Virtual activities will also be held around town throughout the day like picking up a sidewalk chalk kit or participating in virtual family yoga, trash clean, a virtual bike maintenance demonstration, a garden bed demonstration and a live story time from the library.
There are many health benefits to spending time outdoors. Strauss urges everyone to make sure they are getting to spend some time outside and enjoying some of the “great” parks found along Rice County’s rivers.
“Now is a good time to get out and enjoy those parks … and the great natural resources we have in our towns and neighborhoods,” said Strauss. “The more people are hanging out in city parks along the river, the more calls we get from people concerned about issues associated with keeping the rivers and lakes clean, which in turn helps those issues become solved.”
Pregnancy isn’t what Kate Camerer pictured. She hasn’t had any complications, thankfully, but expecting her first child during the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique circumstance.
“[My husband and I are] ready, but we’re not ready,” said Camerer, an Ellendale resident, of giving birth. “We’re preparing to have [the baby] and come back and just be here until we can go out.”
Even before stay-at-home orders took effect in Minnesota, Camerer, a teacher, began working from home because some of her family members have health risks and because she’s pregnant. Her husband’s an essential employee, so Camerer is at home alone with her dog — and her thoughts — most of the day.
When Camerer goes in to deliver at Owatonna Hospital, she’s only allowed one support person to be there throughout her hospital stay. That means, other than her husband, visitors can’t see her or her baby.
“That’s the part that bums me out the most,” said Camerer, who is due May 3. “It’s our first kid, so you want grandparents there, aunts and uncles and cousins, and right now, we don’t necessarily know when people will get to meet the baby at all. I’d say, other than making sure everybody’s healthy, that’s the part that is the hardest.”
Sue Shaft, registered nurse and patient care manager for both District One and Owatonna hospitals, said limited visitors is one of the biggest changes pregnant patients need to abide by during the pandemic. Whoever the mom chooses as a support person is screened and wears a mask the entire time they’re at the hospital.
The change has been hard on a lot of families, but Shaft said a number of new moms were also pleased with the extra time to rest and bond with their babies. Plus, they haven’t needed to worry about offending visitors by turning them away — they’re simply following hospital regulations.
“So far it’s gone way better than I would have expected for families,” said Shaft. “Most people have been really understanding of why we’re doing [visitor restrictions].”
Before a woman gives birth, many of her usual prenatal visits now take place online. Prenatal and breastfeeding classes have also shifted to an online format, and patients can register online for these as well as a virtual tour of the hospital.
Because COVID-19 is still a new virus, there is limited research on its impact on unborn babies. What has been determined, said Shaft, is that it’s safe for pregnant mothers with COVID-19 to breastfeed their babies because no traces of COVID-19 have been found in amniotic fluid or breast milk. However, if a woman who is about to give birth tests positive for coronavirus, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the mother and child separate until the mom recovers.
Shaft said families have the choice of honoring that recommendation or not, but Allina hospitals have set up separate rooms just in case. District One has the unique feature of a reverse isolation room, which can provide extra safety. For mothers with COVID-19 who choose not to separate from their baby, Shaft said the recommendation is for moms to sleep at least six feet apart from their child, wear a mask while breastfeeding and be extra stringent with hand washing.
Allina Hospitals in Faribault and Owatonna haven’t experienced an influx of COVID-19 patients, so most of the measures taken are precautionary. Because it’s hard to know who really has coronavirus, hospitals have implemented universal masking to offer two-way protection for staff and patients. Shaft said Allina employees wear the same masks their entire shift, treating them “like gold.” If a patient tests positive, employees change their masks and wear an eye shield.
Shaft reported Allina hospitals have enough PPE (personal protective equipment) to go around for now, and soon the donated homemade masks will go home with the post-partum moms. Local companies have also been mandated to make masks, said Shaft.
Northfield Hospital and Clinic is implementing many of the same practices, including visitor restrictions. According to Lisa Bauer, director of the Birth Center at Northfield Hospital and Clinic, all staff members have access to PPE that includes masks or face shields, gloves and gowns. All Birth Center patients, including the support person, are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and will continue receiving care even if they test positive. The birth center follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in caring for pregnant patients with confirmed or suspected exposure to COVID-19.
Mayo Clinic Health System in Faribault also implemented a number of changes during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dr. Tina Rauenhorst, consultant of obstetrics and gynecology. In particular, that means keeping symptomatic patients separate from those seeking regular care and minimizing the number of visits.
For prenatal care, MCHS has started using OB Nest, a prenatal care model Mayo Clinic in Rochester developed long before the pandemic. This system allows pregnant mothers to use provided devices to listen to their baby’s heartbeat and check their own blood pressure. Pregnant mothers still come to the clinic for pregnancy confirmation and their 20-week ultrasounds, but ultimately, most appointments are done remotely.
“Patients have been very grateful to have alternative options other than having them required to come in so frequently,” said Rauenhorst. “In fact patients are wondering if we’ll continue this after things settle down. They like the opportunity to do things remotely.”
Front line workers
Nurses, said Shaft, live with a fear of the unknown. Research and hospital expectations change every day, and in some cases, every hour.
“It’s hard for the nurses to keep up with all the changes,” said Shaft. The other thing is we’re limited in the testing we’re doing. Even if you test a mother here, it won’t be until she goes home that we know the results.”
By keeping a log, Shaft said nurses keep track of the patients they care for. That way, if a patient tests positive, they can take appropriate steps. As long as medical staff wear the right protective gear, Shaft said they shouldn’t come in contact with the virus. Nurses are also staying educated on how to use PPE properly during the pandemic.
Shaft says other Allina hospitals in Minnesota have reported a few pregnant moms wanting to try a home birth with a midwife during the pandemic. However, if there are complications during a home birth, an ambulance would still need to transfer the mother to the hospital. From Shaft’s perspective, hospitals are well-equipped for safe deliveries because everyone who patients come in contact with are proven healthy. Plus, mothers have the option of being discharged as early as 24 hours after delivery if everything goes smoothly.
“I feel like we’re just a very safe place, probably safer than ever,” said Shaft.
At Mayo Clinic Health System, Rauenhorst said staff from the radiology department come to the clinic to draw blood and do ultrasounds to minimize the traveling OB patients need to do. Gynecology appointments are also being delayed to limit exposure of those patients and decrease the volume further.
“Staff has been great,” said Rauenhorst. “Of course this has required a lot of change, rapid implementation and new processes, but staff has been eager to jump in in order to keep ourselves and our patients safe.”
Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. the Kenyon-Wanamingo Music Department posts an entertaining musical diversion, featuring music, games and educational elements in addition to a surprise guest appearance on Youtube.
Elementary music teacher Jan Strand developed the idea to connect with students and all members of the community united through music.
Middle/High School Choir Director Stephanie Schumacher describes Music Knights as a “middle of the night idea” from Strand.
“She brought up the concept at one of our first online meetings and as we talked it all spiraled from there,” said Schumacher. “We wanted to make something that would be entertaining for all of our students from K-12 and their parents, as well.”
Middle/High School Band Director Claire Larson says the collaborative project has each member of the music department taking a certain role. Schumacher takes care of the teacher trivia and production of the video, Strand is in charge of the game, Larson works on the rhythm and word of the day and Larson’s student teacher Gabrielle Irle also aids in the rhythm of the day and generated different ideas.
Of the video production, Schumacher said, “I’ve been having a lot of fun putting it together and I’m learning a lot about video editing on the fly!”
Larson says teachers select a guest for each episode. The first episode featured April 1 was Jesse Beulke, who has recently composed a work for the K-12 music program.
“Jesse is no stranger to K-W as he was long term sub for Steph and also is related to the Beulkes in Wanamingo,” said Larson.
The second episode played April 8, featured K-W native Luke Davidson, who is involved in musical theater.
Larson isn’t giving away any hints about who she chose for the special guest on this Wednesday’s episode, but is sure it will be “awesome and might reveal some other news of exciting potentials for K-W’s music program.” And, she said, “We don’t want to give too much away, but we have some pretty incredible shows coming up.”
Larson says she has enjoyed the collaboration and spontaneity of the project.
“Jan will come up with a game which will inspire the words of the day which inspires rhythm and Stephanie weaves it all together with her magic producing skills into something amazing,” said Larson. “We hope the community and the kids really enjoy it!”
Schumacher says while it’s fascinating that the first place so many turn to while longing for human connection is the arts, it’s no surprise to her.
“Everywhere we look on social media we are seeing people creating music and art,” said Schumacher. “They’re learning new instruments, writing songs, getting creative with making parodies and more. It all goes to show just how essential music really is in our lives.”
Since singing together in the same room isn’t possible at the time being, Schumacher is thankful to be able to connect on a personal level through platforms that allow students and teacher to meet through video and audio.
“While the focus of our content has shifted a bit, it is my hope that our music students will continue to find enjoyment in listening to and performing music,” said Schumacher. “Our weekly ‘Music Knight’ video is another way we hope to provide our students and their families with a shared musical experience.”
Benefits Schumacher has discovered from the non-ideal way of making music through distance learning are the gift of time to collaborate and communicate with colleagues and the opportunity to learn new skills and test them out.
“The biggest one I’ve found so far, though, is the fact that I’m able to connect with every one of my students from grades five through 12 one-on-one, something that I don’t get the chance to do in a full rehearsal setting at school,” she said.