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Holiday decor keeps a not-so-white Christmas merry and bright

Some may think the Griswolds had moved into town — and purchased up several homes currently beaming with holiday spirit.

aharman / By ANNIE GRANLUND annie.granlund@apgsomn.com 

More lights and decorative fixtures continue to be added to the Central Park holiday display. (Annie Granlund/southernminn.com)

As the holiday lights in downtown Owatonna continue to multiple and ring in the Christmas cheer, homes decked out from chimney to stoop have brought an explosion of color into the dark december nights.

aharman / By ANNIE GRANLUND annie.granlund@apgsomn.com 

One of two homes on Oak Avenue, just a short distance down from The Blast, went all out this year. While the front of their house is spectacular, it’s the back of the house that butys up to the Straight River that people will need to go see for themselves. (Annie Granlund/southernminn.com)

One trend that continues to gain popularity in town has been coordinating lights to music, which looky-loos can tune into the designated radio stations displayed outside the home for a fully immersive holiday experience.

aharman / By ANNIE GRANLUND annie.granlund@apgsomn.com 

The Baker home on Murray Street continues to draw attention. The family’s light display has been set up by the son, Nolan Baker, who has been heading up the household decor team since he was in middle school. Baker is currently a senior at Owatonna High School. (Annie Granlund/southernminn.com)

Inflatables continue to be a fun addition to the lawn decor, and thankfully it would appear nobody in town lost their giant Santas or Grinches during the intense winds experienced last week.

aharman / By ANNIE GRANLUND annie.granlund@apgsomn.com 

Over the years, new characters in pop culture have been added to the line up of holiday inflatables. This home near Redeemer Lutheran Church in Owatonna added a beloved minion from Despicable Me to their decor. (Annie Granlund/southernminn.com)


News
spotlight
Coyotes become a topic of discussion for Park Board
  • Updated

A unique topic was brought to the attention of the Owatonna Parks and Recreation board during their December meeting.

A board member brought up during the Dec. 13 meeting that coyotes have been seen several times in city limits on the north side of town.

During the most recent Owatonna Park Board meeting, board members discussed coyote sightings on the north side of town. The urban coyote population is growing, but the animals generally pose little risk — and there are ways pet owners can keep their animals safe. (Caninest via Flickr)

“A board member brought up that they and some other folks had been talking about hearing coyotes howling close to town and some reported sightings in town,” said Jenna Tuma, the city parks and rec director. “This discussion came up on short notice, so we didn’t have much time to prepare on how to provide answers on the topic.”

Tuma did say she had reached out to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to see how they manage coyotes in city limits or what they recommend people do if they were to encounter one.

Tuma

“At this time they said they weren’t seeing it as a problem or aware of it as an issue,” Tuma said. “There’s no program through the DNR to remove or kill the animals. At this point, the plan seems to be that they will monitor it and do more research.”

DNR Area Supervisor Jeanine Vorland said coyotes are not commonly seen in towns in Steele County, however they tend to be opportunistic animals and will venture into areas with humans to seek out food.

“Most of the time they avoid people and domestic animals, but occasionally, if they have access to food or garbage left outside, they are more than happy to take advantage of it,” Vorland. “They’re very adaptive animals, and if they’re not being threatened, they’ll take advantage of habitat in town.”

Coyotes generally have a diet of mice, rabbits, small birds and other small animals. Similarly to raccoons and opossums, coyotes are more than happy to take advantage of bird feeders, cat or dog food left outside and garbage.

Vorland said taking an opportunity for a food source is generally what will bring them closer to human-populated areas, but also an injured or sick animal may venture into town once in a while. If someone believes they’re seeing an injured animal, Vorland said they are to call animal control right away so they may assess the situation and decide on a course of action.

The Minnesota DNR refers to coyotes as an unprotected animal. Other mammals on that list include gophers, skunks and weasels, meaning there is no closed season for hunting them and that they may be taken in any manner other than with the aid of artificial lights or by using a motor vehicle. The DNR website states that the coyote population is increasing in southern Minnesota because they prefer the combination of farmland and forest habitat. Their only known predators in the state are wolves and humans.

Each year in the fall, a formal survey is taken to get an idea of coyote population numbers, according to Vorland. To take the survey, they clear off an area on the side of a road to record tracks overnight. She reported that the location they surveyed in Owatonna this year didn’t produce many tracks, so there appears to be a low population in the area.

“Most people think that it is neat to spot a coyote and some think it’s scary,” Vorland said. “Both are understandable, depending on where it’s seen, but there’s a handful of things people can do to prevent them from venturing into their yards.”


State
As omicron becomes state's dominant strain, Minnesotans seek rapid tests and shots

Over the last few months, Kate Loe regularly picked up boxes of BinaxNow COVID-19 antigen tests. “It’s just become part of our routine for me and my kids before we get together with anyone and certainly after any exposure that the kids might have at school or through sports.” But over the last few weeks, Loe, who lives in Minneapolis, said those tests have been harder to come by. She found the pharmacies she visited were sold out. “I ordered some online and was originally given a date of [Dec. 23]. So I thought I would have them in time for the holidays then I received a notice that I actually wouldn’t receive them until [Dec. 30],” she said. “Then I had to go back in order more, to do a curbside pickup at a pharmacy. So it’s certainly been more challenging.” Loe said she’s hoping to have enough on hand to give to relatives before they all get together. She’s also taking a PCR test this week as a more sure way to find out if she is infected. With travel expected to be near pre-pandemic levels, the demand for COVID tests — as well as vaccinations — are up across the board. The fast-spreading omicron variant adds urgency. State health officials on Wednesday announced that omicron is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in Minnesota. St. Paul Corner Drug owner and pharmacist John Hoeschen has ordered dozens of boxes of rapid tests. “It’s like every second or third customer is buying Binax. I mean, it’s in very high demand right now,” he said. Hoeschen said he’s had to find multiple distributors to keep his shelves stocked. At the same time, booster shot appointments are all filling up. “I think it’s all coming together at once, right? I mean, you got the Thanksgiving holiday, you got the announcement of omicron … then couple that with the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and events and gatherings, I think a lot of people are a little bit nervous right now.” A spokesperson for Abbott Labs, which manufactures the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, said the company is seeing unprecedented demand and currently produces about 50 million tests per month, with the goal of up to 70 million per month in January. On the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters page, an information portal for Minnesotans looking to find COVID vaccines and boosters, the location of Binax and other tests is a frequent topic of conversation. Maura Caldwell, the administrator of the page, sees questions on boosters as well and even posts seeking information for those new to vaccination. “Multiple people posted looking for a first dose for someone and I’m so quick to jump on those posts and say, ‘I will book it for you,’” Caldwell said. “Maybe somebody wouldn’t see them this holiday, or maybe they know somebody who passed away or is in the hospital, or whatever it is, and they finally said, ‘Let’s do this.’” Sara Vetter with the Minnesota Infectious Disease Laboratory said rapid tests, while convenient, have limitations. “It can give a false sense of security that you aren’t carrying around a virus,” Vetter said. A rapid antigen test is not as reliable as a PCR test, especially for those who are asymptomatic, Vetter said. “It’s best to use a rapid antigen test if you are symptomatic. And you want to take a test to find out if you’re positive so that then you can isolate right away and inform your contacts,” she said. “So in that case, it can give you a rapid answer so that you can take your own steps to protect yourself and others more quickly.” Vetter advises looking for PCR tests at your health care

Over the last few months, Kate Loe regularly picked up boxes of BinaxNow COVID-19 antigen tests.

“It’s just become part of our routine for me and my kids before we get together with anyone and certainly after any exposure that the kids might have at school or through sports.”

But over the last few weeks, Loe, who lives in Minneapolis, said those tests have been harder to come by. She found the pharmacies she visited were sold out.

“I ordered some online and was originally given a date of [Dec. 23]. So I thought I would have them in time for the holidays then I received a notice that I actually wouldn’t receive them until [Dec. 30],” she said. “Then I had to go back in order more, to do a curbside pickup at a pharmacy. So it’s certainly been more challenging.”

Loe said she’s hoping to have enough on hand to give to relatives before they all get together. She’s also taking a PCR test this week as a more sure way to find out if she is infected.

With travel expected to be near pre-pandemic levels, the demand for COVID tests — as well as vaccinations — are up across the board. The fast-spreading omicron variant adds urgency. State health officials on Wednesday announced that omicron is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in Minnesota.

St. Paul Corner Drug owner and pharmacist John Hoeschen has ordered dozens of boxes of rapid tests.

“It’s like every second or third customer is buying Binax. I mean, it’s in very high demand right now,” he said.

Hoeschen said he’s had to find multiple distributors to keep his shelves stocked. At the same time, booster shot appointments are all filling up.

“I think it’s all coming together at once, right? I mean, you got the Thanksgiving holiday, you got the announcement of omicron … then couple that with the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and events and gatherings, I think a lot of people are a little bit nervous right now.”

A spokesperson for Abbott Labs, which manufactures the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, said the company is seeing unprecedented demand and currently produces about 50 million tests per month, with the goal of up to 70 million per month in January.

On the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters page, an information portal for Minnesotans looking to find COVID vaccines and boosters, the location of Binax and other tests is a frequent topic of conversation.

Maura Caldwell, the administrator of the page, sees questions on boosters as well and even posts seeking information for those new to vaccination.

“Multiple people posted looking for a first dose for someone and I’m so quick to jump on those posts and say, ‘I will book it for you,’” Caldwell said. “Maybe somebody wouldn’t see them this holiday, or maybe they know somebody who passed away or is in the hospital, or whatever it is, and they finally said, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Sara Vetter with the Minnesota Infectious Disease Laboratory said rapid tests, while convenient, have limitations.

“It can give a false sense of security that you aren’t carrying around a virus,” Vetter said.

A rapid antigen test is not as reliable as a PCR test, especially for those who are asymptomatic, Vetter said.

“It’s best to use a rapid antigen test if you are symptomatic. And you want to take a test to find out if you’re positive so that then you can isolate right away and inform your contacts,” she said. “So in that case, it can give you a rapid answer so that you can take your own steps to protect yourself and others more quickly.”

Vetter advises looking for PCR tests at your health care provider or a state testing site. Or search “COVID test near me” on the web.


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