A State of Crisis: 19 Hours in Minnesota
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A State of Crisis: 19 Hours in Minnesota

    About the "19 Hours" project

    In the land of 10,000 lakes, life resembles little of what it did seven weeks ago.

    Wide-sweeping changes have altered life. Dramatically, perhaps even irreversibly, COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, shook the core of what Minnesotans hold close and dear.

    Since the first positive case was detected in the state March 6, the changes are mind numbing.

    An extended stay at home order for many, except for basic essentials or outdoor activities. Virtual classrooms. Unprecedented unemployment, a reeling economy and business closings. Social distancing. No gathering for worship, concerts or festivals. Even America’s pastime, and the hometown Twins, are indefinitely suspended. High school and college athletes saw their seasons end abruptly — or canceled.

    Family, particularly those most vulnerable to coronavirus, and friends isolated for weeks with no timeline to reunite. 

    The invisible and lethal global pandemic has tested Minnesotans — accustomed to greeting their neighbors, working hard, expressing their faith, attending events — in inexplicable ways, creating an unclear picture of the future.

    But there are signs of life — and hope. 

    World-class health care experts, technology firms and manufacturers are working at warp speed for solutions and ways to re-establish normalcy and re-open the state, and America.

    Now, more than ever, Minnesotans are heading to the great outdoors. They’ve found new ways to stay connected to family, friends and community. 

    On Monday, April 20, more than 50 journalists from Forum Communications, with newspapers all across the state, set out to document life in Minnesota over 19 hours. This is the story of Minnesotans, and how they are muddling through the unknown.

    Note: This special presentation is best viewed in wide-screen format on a non-mobile screen and may need a moment to load.

    5:00 - 5:50 a.m.
    Time to make the donuts

    BEMIDJI — While much of the world has come to a standstill, it’s not the case for grocery workers at Marketplace Foods in Bemidji. James Dahl, Dave Long and Brandon Granmo were hard at work with their typical schedule that began long before dawn.

    Dahl and Long have spent decades in the bakery department at Marketplace and Granmo works as the store director. The aroma of bread dough and bakery sweets wafts through the air, penetrating through any mask in the 5 o’clock hour at Marketplace.

    Though the store is opening two hours later because of the coronavirus pandemic, here’s how three of Minnesota’s essential workers — two veteran bakery workers and the store director —  spent an early morning hour during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Baker James Dahl, right, egg washes specialty bread while donut fryer David Long packages donuts at Marketplace Foods in Bemidji. Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

    Brandon Granmo, store director at Marketplace Foods in Bemidji, unloads pallets of grocery items. Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

    5:10 a.m. - Donning a Star Wars face mask, baker James Dahl forms dough, egg washes and scores loaves of bread. “I’ve worked here all my life,” Dahl says. On the other end of the long wooden table, doughnut fryer Dave Long — celebrating his 27-year work anniversary — packages cake doughnuts.

    5:20 a.m. -
    Long tosses some cake doughnuts in cinnamon sugar and then others in powdered sugar. Dahl places baking sheets with cookies into a giant oven. “It can hold 30 of these baking sheets,” Dahl says. Soon going in and out would be cinnamon rolls, doughnuts and apple fritters.

    5:30 a.m. -
     Store director Brandon Granmo unloads grocery items from pallets that just arrived on a truck. “It usually takes an hour or two,” Granmo says.

    5:50 a.m. -
    Other bakery employees show up for their 6 a.m. shift. They’ll package and ice bakery items among other tasks. Dahl and Long continue to bake various sweet treats while Granmo continues to unload other grocery items from pallets. 

    6:30 a.m. - 6:48 a.m
    'A lot of praying' 

    ROCHESTER — Michelle Heilskov parks her car in the employee ramp, slips on a fabric mask and steels herself for another 12-hour shift. "I do a lot of praying before I get here," she says.

    Heilskov, 54, is a nurse in the medical intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys, which treats patients who have serious conditions including a handful so far with COVID-19. On April 20, 116 COVID-19 patients are in ICUs, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. 

    Mayo intensive care unit nurse Michelle Heilskov rides the staff elevator at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester at the start of her 12-hour day. Ken Klotzbach / The Post Bulletin

    Today is Heilskov's turn to be one of the charge nurses, overseeing a team of nurses caring for a dozen patients in all, a mix of COVID and non-COVID patients.  She's been an ICU nurse for 25 years. "I like the challenge," she says.

    Caring for patients with COVID-19 has presented new challenges. Some cases require assigning two nurses per patient. The virus is still imperfectly understood. Nurses like Heilskov can offer care, but not a cure. And all the while, they risk their own health.

    "It's more stressful," she says. "Nurses are nervous about taking it (the coronavirus) home. They're nervous about getting it."

    So, they have learned to work together to "suit up" with personal protective equipment before entering patients' rooms, following instructions from a new PPE coach assigned to them. They help remind each other through the day to exercise care for patients, themselves and each other. No nurses in her group have tested positive so far, Heilskov says. 

    "We are a lot more hypervigilant about what we touch, how we do things," she says.

    Mayo intensive care unit nurse Michelle Heilskov badges into the ICU at the start of her 12-hour day Monday, April 20, to care for COVID-19 patients. Ken Klotzbach / The Post Bulletin

    Mayo intensive care unit nurse Michelle Heilskov starts her 12-hour shift. Ken Klotzbach / The Post Bulletin

    Heilskov arrives at the beginning of her work day. Ken Klotzbach / The Post Bulletin

    6:48 a.m. - Heilskov rides the elevator to the sixth floor of the Mary Brigh building at Saint Marys, which contains the ICU. Only four people at a time may ride, a sign says.

    The toughest thing about COVID-19 for patients is being isolated from loved ones. But, Heilskov says, "They're never alone with us." Nurses decorate patients' rooms or bring them prayer blankets — whatever it takes to provide a measure of human comfort. 

    6:57 a.m. - Heilskov reaches the doors of the ICU. First thing, she'll take the morning report. "We tend to be excited just to get going," she says. At 8 a.m., the charge nurses will meet to go over patient reports, new admissions and the roster of those who are leaving the ICU — alive.

    Yes, there have been COVID-19 patients who have emerged living from the ICU. "That's exciting," Heilskov says. 

    On any day, the hallways at Saint Marys are electric with life-saving purpose. That feels heightened today, when every person you see is masked. All that is seen of their faces are the eyes. Grim eyes. Determined eyes. Frightened eyes. And Heilskov's eyes — what have they seen? What might they wish they hadn't seen? 

    She waves her badge over a sensor, and across the hall a broad set of double doors silently swings open. She turns and strides through the doorway into the ICU. Her challenge is just beginning. 

    7:30 a.m. - 8:26 a.m.
    'Nobody wants the corona'

    PEQUOT LAKES — Ashley Sullivan awaits the arrival of children to her home day care. At 7:30 a.m., the family’s big bullmastiff, Millee, is locked behind a gate blocking the kitchen and the rest of her home from the living room, which serves as Ashley R. Sullivan’s Family Child Care.

    One of her four sons, Charles, 7, plays a video game on a large TV hung on the wall. Husband James, who works overnights at Pequot Tool & Manufacturing, is asleep in the bedroom with fans running as white noise.
    7:34 a.m. - Marcus Evenson, who owns North Star Irrigation, delivers off his daughter, MaKenna, 18 months old. MaKenna’s mom, Amanda Gelking, is a dental hygienist.

    7:41 a.m. - Lloyd Warren, working remotely for Crow Wing Power’s IT department, drops off Rowen, 5, and Waverly, 2. Wife Britany works in financial services for Cass County. Sullivan says an 11-month-old, whose mom is a nurse, won’t be coming this day.

    7:45 a.m. - The kids play and watch TV. “Nobody wants the corona,” Rowen says.

    7:51 a.m. - The two girls help Sullivan get the table ready for breakfast. Ten minutes later, the children are eating Cheerios with a banana.

    8:16 a.m. - Sullivan cleans up breakfast dishes and helps the kids wash their hands and mouths. Moments later, she takes out toys for the kids to play.

    8:26 a.m. - Sullivan wipes down the table, chairs and high chair and then watches the kids as they play. Her day now includes her own four kids — including two high school seniors — at home doing distance learning. That has affected her daily life more than any day care changes. She appreciates the school district dropping off weekday meals for her sons.

    7:45 a.m.
    Drive-thru meal delivery to feed the kids

    PERHAM — Two dozen or so staff members’ cars are scattered around the Perham Public School parking lot as the golden sun rises over the middle school.

    On what would normally be a busy morning in Perham, a community of about 3,500 people in Otter Tail County, a flag flaps lazily in a cool breeze at 7:45 a.m. as school staff comes out of the building to greet cars driving through the loop.

    Rather than dropping off students, the drivers arrive to pick up school lunches.

    As the cars move through the line, staff use a cart to help them distribute bagged breakfast and lunches for children.

    7:50 a.m. - 9:15 a.m.
    Not exactly business as usual

    THIEF RIVER FALLS — Though the facility is open and delivery trucks regularly pick up and drop off product, the changes are visible at Digi-Key in Thief River Falls. 

    A massive parking lot is about two-thirds empty and every other packing station, where product is boxed and labeled for shipping, is empty. Only two workers sit -- at separate tables -- in a third-floor employee dining area that could house two basketball courts.

    Digi-Key Electronics director of order fulfillment Cody Huschle sits in his office at the Thief River Falls facility on Monday morning at 8:58 a.m. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    Typically, over 3,800 people are working inside the electronic parts distribution company, which has teamed up with the University of Minnesota to supply components for respirators. Over 1,700 employees now work from home, a feat for the company’s IT department, as many employees live in rural areas outside of Thief River Falls, and connectivity is an issue.

    “It’s a cubicle ghost town,” says Shane Zutz, vice president of human resources. “It would be a great place to play Nerf wars or something.”

    Break tables get cleaned every two hours at Digi-Key. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    Employees stretch prior to starting their shift. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    Vice president of human resources Shane Zutz talks about steps taken to ensure employee and customer safety. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    7:50 a.m. - Receptionist Julie Peterson irons homemade masks workers can take if they want. She is part of a four-person mask-making team. She has a sewing machine at her desk that her husband puts in the car every Sunday night so she can work on the masks at work.

    Digi-Key Electronics receptionist Julie Peterson sews fabric squares together to be made into face masks for employees at the Thief River Falls facility at 7:52 a.m. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    8:10 a.m. - Shane Zutz shows how employees clean totes. The totes allow parts, which need to be boxed and shipped, to be moved on the facility’s conveyors. They pass through an ultraviolet light machine, engineered on-site. Staff had asked about the possibility of cleaning them. “These totes, In the course of a day, can hit 95 pack stations or pick stations.”

    8:17 a.m. - Cindy Wiskow and Gloria Barber do stretching exercises at their workstation. They do it twice a day to ward off becoming stiff while they work.

    8:19 a.m. - Elaine Sundberg, wearing a mask and gloves, sanitizes tables in a break area. They get cleaned every two hours and she is responsible for three areas. 

    8:35 a.m. - Jamiee Gaddie takes a break from her 4:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift to drink an energy drink. “The closest employee is two tables away. We have staggered breaks, so there’s less people on breaks now,” Gaddie says.

    A Digi-Key Electronics employee checks her phone while on break Monday morning at 8:36 a.m. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

    8:57 a.m. - Cody Huschle, the director of order fulfillment, wears a face covering while sitting in his office, where he works on a plan to help keep employees healthy during the pandemic. “We’re trying to get to a point where we have as much social distance as possible, within the confines of the building,” Huschle says. 

    9:10 a.m. - Back at her desk, receptionist Julie Peterson sews masks while taking phone calls. She takes the sewing machine home with her on the weekends. She says the mask-sewing has a long way to go. “We’re going to work on masks all week,” Peterson says. 

    8:20 a.m. - 9:48 a.m.
    It's all happening at the zoo

    BYRON — Naturalists Clarissa Schrooten and Jaide Ryks are busy with diet prep — weighing portions, chopping meat, and applying supplements when needed — for their animal wards at Zollman Zoo. 

    Although Gov. Tim Walz’s order closed the Oxbow Park Nature Center and the zoo to visitors until at least May 4, the 30-plus native Minnesota animals housed there must still be fed. Usually, the naturalists arrive at the park just west of Rochester about 8 a.m. to begin.

    Normally, the zoo staff would spend late April teaching classes and hosting school trips. On an average day, they might see 200 people. If four or five schools plan visits on the same day, the nature center might see up to 1,000 kids come through — plus those families and other visitors. 

    Today, it’s empty except for the staff and an electrical crew repairing a deteriorating line.

    Clarissa Schrooten does a training exercise with a bear before feeding the animal Monday, April 20, at Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo near Byron. Joe Ahlquist / The Post Bulletin

    Clarissa Schrooten places a hunk of meat in a tire while feeding the wolves. Joe Ahlquist / The Post Bulletin

    Clarissa Schrooten looks through a container of perfumes for a scent to use as enrichment for the animals. Joe Ahlquist / The Post Bulletin

    8:37 a.m. - Time to start hosing down the diet prep room in the barn — the whole thing needs to be “USDA clean.” The naturalists wear protective gloves nearly constantly and are vigilant about cleanliness to protect themselves while handling raw meat and cleaning the enclosures. News that a tiger in the Bronx Zoo tested positive for coronavirus didn’t worry Schrooten and Ryks much — they keep a distance from the animals who could potentially harm them, including Zollman Zoo’s lynx and cougar. However, Schrooten says she has stopped one habit — blowing air toward the faces of the zoo’s feline residents, which normally lets them sniff her from a distance — as it could also spread the coronavirus, should she be infected. After the room is clean, Schrooten begins gathering buckets of food, treats and a duck scent to dab around for enrichment.

    9:18 a.m. - In the coyote enclosure, Schrooten checks off the five things she needs to do in each animal’s area: food, fun (enrichment), fecal, fence (checking to ensure that they’re secure and turned on), and water. The main section of the coyote’s space needs to be relandscaped and, crucially, the fencing under the dirt that keeps the coyotes from digging their way out needs to be replaced.

    In the absence of volunteers, it’s all hands on deck to do “spring cleaning,” like changing the mulch in the zoo and freshening up the enclosures. That’s a big task for the zoo’s five full-time staffers (plus one seasonal worker so far, who joined the previous week). Ordinarily, Schrooten and Ryks say, volunteers and groups from schools would help with much of the seasonal maintenance this time of year.
    9:27 a.m. - The wolves wag their tails and whine, open-mouthed, as Schrooten approaches with their meal — meat, liver and a few bones for calcium (“like drinking a glass of milk for us”). 

    Schrooten strings up a tire in the wolves’ tree, hides the food in stumps, fencing, and the tire, digs up a bowling pin (the previous day’s enrichment item, which “they always bury”), and tucks treats into Wolf Mountain, the outcrop of rocks where the brother and sister survey the rest of the zoo. “It’s no fun if they come out and their food’s all in one spot,” she says. “That’s making them lazy.” 

    The sight and scent of visitors is extra enrichment for the animals, Schrooten says. They’ve gone without that stimulus lately, except when visitors walking in the still-open park get close to the outside fence. A reporter and a photojournalist following Schrooten through the otherwise-empty enclosure, counts as “huge enrichment for these guys,” she says. “They’ll smell your tracks.

    “People coming out is like entertainment for them.”
    9:48 a.m. - The zoo’s 300-pound black bear has training to do before she’s fed. The naturalists work on “targeting,” or touching a yellow item with her nose, as a way to lead her where they need her to go — like onto a scale, or a different part of her enclosure. This summer, they hope to train her to sit and present her side to make vaccinations easier. Bears are smart, Ryks says, so training counts for part of her enrichment. Nevertheless, Schrooten hefts three toys into the bear’s enclosure and scatters her food around to encourage foraging behavior. The bear, who turned 21 this spring, is “very picky,” Ryks says. “She has a list of food she does and does not like, and the list of ‘does not like’ is way longer.” Fortunately, carrots (used in the training) are among the approved vegetables.

    Clarissa Schrooten places an apple on the top of a tree stump in the bear enclosure. Joe Ahlquist / The Post Bulletin

    Naturalists Clarissa Schrooten, left, and Jaide Ryks clean the food prep area after preparing raw meat for food for the animals. Joe Ahlquist / The Post Bulletin

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