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Virtual statewide book club targets fans of middle-grade fiction
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Books have the power to break boundaries, and an online discussion group can take it a step further by literally getting readers on the same page.

A statewide book club called One Book | One Minnesota allows Minnesotans to access the same book for free online, without a library card, and participate in online discussions arranged by local libraries. Because the entire program is online, the program is accessible to patrons across the state whether or not their local library participates.

Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault is among several libraries in the state participating in the program, which Children’s Librarian Deni Buendorf offered for the first time last year. “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo was the first book featured in 2020.

This time, the selected book is “Slider” by Minnesota author Paul Hautman. A middle-grade novel with comedic elements, the story follows a character named David who sets out to win a food-eating contest. David’s little brother, Mal, who is on the autism spectrum, also plays an important role in the story.

“It’s a funny book; I enjoy it,” said Buendorf, who has been reading the book for the first time along with participants. “And it’s neat to read it at the same time as everybody else, to think of how many people have been reading it.”

In his welcome video to the One Book One Minnesota community, Hautman said, “My book ‘Slider’ is about eating contests, sure, but mostly it’s about family dynamics, about a kid named David who discovers he’s not just the invisible middle kid in his family; he’s the linchpin, the one who holds it all together like the beef in a White Castle slider.”

As libraries across the state participate in the reading program, Ebooks Minnesota is offering the book for free through May 9. Hard copies are also available through independent book sellers throughout the state and at libraries.

Using One Book One Minnesota resources, librarians have several options for connecting “Slider” readers.

So far, Buendorf has created events on Facebook for two types of virtual discussions. One is a discussion board, where readers can post their comments in response to the provided prompts. The other, a virtual discussion scheduled for 4:30 p.m. May 3, will follow a conversation guide. A few families have already signed up to attend this discussion, Buendorf said.

Buendorf also decided to record herself reading a few chapters out loud at a time and posting the videos on the Buckham Memorial Library YouTube Channel. Viewers can read along while listening, since Buendorf includes the pages in the video clips.

“I’m really glad they’re doing this,” Buendorf said of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, which made One Book One Minnesota possible. “It took a pandemic to get it going, but I hope we keep it; I think it’s cool that it exists. Even some towns will have just their own book clubs where they read the whole book as a group.”

Another event Buendorf recommends to fans of Minnesota authors is the 2021 Minnesota Book Awards Virtual Ceremony. The event is 7 p.m. Thursday, April 29 via an online platform. The advantage to having the event online is that anyone can attend without paying a fee, but Buendorf said, “That is a really fun event to go to in person if you ever get the chance.”

Waseca fire injures three, displaces 12 residents
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A fire in Waseca displaced 12 people and damaged three buildings Saturday evening.

The Waseca Fire Department responded to a grill fire shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday. Firefighters were able to get the fire under control in a short time, but the fire spread and got into the attic of both buildings at 117 and 120 Second Ave. NE., according to Waseca Fire Chief Jason Forshee.

Both structures were occupied at the time of the fire. One person was rescued from the fire by police officers and was transported by ambulance to the hospital, Forshee said.

Two firefighters reported minor injuries, one of which was taken to the hospital in a personal vehicle. Both firefighters are OK, he said.

Firefighters cleared the scene at 9 p.m. Saturday, but returned at 11:30 p.m. to do more work, clearing the scene for the final time at 1 a.m. Sunday, he said.

Both buildings included rental properties, as well as Waseca Realty’s office. In total, 12 people living in the two buildings have been displaced, he said.

The fire marshal confirmed that a grill caused the fire. A damage estimate isn’t known, but both buildings will likely need to be torn down, he said. A third building nearby had damage to its siding due to the fire.

Five fire departments were involved in the fire. The Waseca, Janesville, Waterville and New Richland fire departments responded to the fire scene. The Owatonna Fire Department covered other Waseca calls during the fire.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy a concern in Waseca, health leader says
  • Updated

Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said she is concerned about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy as vaccine appointments are going unfilled.

Meanwhile, the Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith says the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff remains low, but there’s still cases occurring in the community that are causing students to need to quarantine.

Waseca Public Health has opened its COVID-19 vaccine clinics to all residents, but filling the appointments for this week’s clinic has been “agonizingly slow,” Berry told the Waseca County Board Tuesday. There were a dozen open appointments as of Monday and by Tuesday morning, there were still eight open appointments, she said. She said they’ll wait to see whether registration for appointments are filled for next week’s clinic, but they may be near the end of the department’s “substantial push” on vaccines until the COVID-19 vaccines become available for children.

“Nearing the end of our interest locally in vaccines, which is a bit concerning because we are not at 50% vaccinated for the county,” she said.

Waseca County is lagging behind its neighboring counties for the number of adults who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. As of Monday, 46% of Waseca County residents older than 16 have received at least one vaccine dose, compared with 50% in Blue Earth County, 53% in Rice County, 50% in Steele County, 49% in Freeborn County and 48% in Faribault County, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Le Sueur County is also at 46% for its vaccination rate.

Nearly 33% of Waseca residents older than 16 have completed their vaccine series, according to MDH. More women than men in Waseca County are receiving the vaccine.

Fewer residents in the 50-64 age range have received at least one dose than residents ages 18-49 and older than 65. About 50% of residents ages 50-64 have received one dose. Forty-four residents ages 16-17 in Waseca County have received at least one vaccine dose, according to MDH.

Berry said reaching 80% is the “gold standard” for Minnesota, but 70% is more attainable in a rural population. Between 70 and 80% is what is needed to slow the transmission of COVID-19, she said.

Health officials know there’s vaccine hesitancy in Minnesota, especially in southern Minnesota, and Waseca Public Health is trying to increase the amount of education about the vaccine available to the community, she said. The Mayo Clinic Health System has also helped in the effort to get the word out about the vaccine. Berry said she hopes that the effort can “ease people’s minds and answer their questions” about the vaccine.

“Without vaccine, our process of herd immunity means more people get hospitalized than otherwise would need to be and more people unfortunately die,” she told the County Board.

At this point, those who were avidly seeking a COVID-19 vaccine appointment have been vaccinated and the county has reached the stage of people who weren’t in a hurry to find an appointment or are hesitant about receiving the vaccine, Berry told the Waseca County News. Berry said Public Health is ready to assist them.

The state requires Public Health to administer its vaccine doses within 72 hours of receiving them and Berry said they’re not able to order more for the following week if they haven’t administered all of its doses. She said she expects the number of doses the county receives to naturally decline as more of the population is vaccinated.

Berry told the Waseca County News that the county will reach herd immunity either with vaccinations or via the spread of COVID-19, which will take longer and will mean more residents become ill. Using vaccinations and taking preventative measures such as mask wearing means herd immunity will be reached more quickly and with fewer residents becoming ill, she said.

Another Waseca County resident died of COVID-19 in the past week and seven Waseca County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 so far this month, she said. COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending up in the county and “it’s just not really where we’d like our friends and neighbors to be,” she said.

Waseca County’s 14-day case rate has been increasing in the last month. Its has increased from 21.27 cases per 10,000 residents during March 7-20, to 43.6 cases per 10,000 residents March 21-April 3, the most recent rate, according to MDH.

No learning model change

Barring any major changes in COVID-19 in Waseca, Superintendent Eric Huspith said there won’t be any changes to the learning model for students in the final two months of the school year.

Waseca students are currently attending school in-person four days a week and that has been “successful,” Hudspith told the Waseca School Board Thursday.

The district continues to have an average of two to five active COVID-19 cases at any given time. There was one active case and 43 students quarantining last week and five active cases and 100 students quarantining the week prior, according to Hudspith. However, the quarantines are due to exposure to a positive case in various places outside of school and only a couple quarantines are due to an exposure to a positive case at school, he said.

”We still have cases spreading in our community,” he said.

Going into the final two months, the district has gotten into a rhythm with changes due to the pandemic instead of it being overwhelming like it was earlier in the pandemic, he said.

”Students have figured it out by now, ‘I don’t want to mess up my graduation, my commencement, so I’m going to be smart,’” Hudspith said.

The school district intends to hold an in-person prom and graduation this spring. The grand march for prom will take place in the high school gym and they’re still working on determining capacity and setting up a livestream for it, he said. The dance will be held afterward at the Waseca County Fairgrounds to allow the event to be outdoors, but students must still remain in groups of no more than six. The location for graduation has yet to be determined, but it will be either in the gym or in an outdoor location such as the football stadium, Hudspith said.

”They’ve been working so hard this year to finish off this year. There’s so much hope and positivity that you see right now in all of our buildings,” Hudspith said.