Our View: Come on, stay home means stay home!
Hermantown’s Bob and Karen Bayless were snowbirds for 12 years. They know exactly what snowbirds do immediately after flying back to the Northland in the spring.
“You get in the car and go to the grocery store,” Bob Bayless said in a safely distant telephone interview this week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “It’s the first thing you do.”
This spring, though, that quick, normally innocent jaunt — just to refill the fridge — could have grim consequences. It could mean spreading the coronavirus carried back from infected points south to points across Duluth, Superior, and the rest of up north.
The Baylesses and others are rightly concerned about the return right now and in the weeks to come of snowbirds, summer residents, cabin dwellers, and others. Especially with so many still poo-pooing orders to stay home or to take precautions, even if the measures, just a few weeks ago, seemed laughably extreme. They aren’t anymore.
“If it wasn’t a bad virus where they are and it was bad here, they would stay where they are. They wouldn’t come into a hotbed. In many cases now, though, (visitors to and seasonal residents of the Northland) are leaving a hotbed to come here,” Bob Bayless said.
“I’m not just concerned about Duluth, Minnesota; I’m concerned about the whole northern tier of states,” added Karen Bayless. “People can get on the phone when they come home instead. … Go in the house, wash your face and hands, and change your clothes. But don’t go out the door to the grocery store. Call your friend or somebody, an organization; somebody here can go and get your necessities and groceries for you. Make arrangements. …
“But stay in your house for 14 days. Please do that.”
Self-quarantines of at least 14 days have become common in the face of this global pandemic. It’s not unreasonable to ask our snowbirds to do the same, assuming returning to the Northland was their only option in the first place. But some early returning snowbirds already aren’t taking precautions. “I’ve seen it,” Karen Bayless said.
It’s also not out of line to ask our cabin dwellers, vacationers, summer residents, and tourists to hold off on coming at all. Bayfield County, Cook County, and elsewhere have issued orders to stay away, and they should be able to expect voluntary compliance.
Gov. Tim Walz has been quite clear. On Wednesday, he extended the statewide stay-at-home edict until May 4. Minnesotans can heed the directive, taking it as seriously as life or death — because it is that serious.
Also Wednesday, the St. Louis County Health Department said it now believes the coronavirus is being spread through community transmission. That means “the source from which a person has caught the infection" isn’t able to be determined, county Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook said. It’s spreading on its own in the community now, so even more caution demands to be practiced.
The deadly virus can’t move and spread if humans don’t move and spread it with them. Statewide, more than 34% of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota have happened as a result of community spread, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Monday.
“The governor’s stay-at-home order prioritizes the health and safety of all Minnesotans,” Gov. Walz’s office said in a statement to the Opinion page in response to an inquiry specifically about seasonal residents and snowbirds. “For the health and safety of themselves, their friends, family, and neighbors, Minnesotans are strongly urged to stay close to their primary residence throughout the duration of the order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“There have been no ‘snowbird’ specific executive orders issued, and there is no prohibition against people returning home,” Walz’s office further said. “However, the general guidance to all Minnesotans is to stay as close to their primary residence as possible. This is the same guidance for outdoor recreation travel or travel to cabins.”
Troubling are reports of young people getting together and hanging out still; of crowds on the Lakewalk and at Lester Park, Brighton Beach, and elsewhere; and of trailhead parking lots in Duluth filled with vehicles, meaning hikers are brushing past each other on narrow walking paths.
With cabin fever only worsening and with the urge building to visit family — this weekend is Easter — a rapid spread of the coronavirus is a very real danger right now.
Stepped-up enforcement may be necessary to keep people in place and in compliance with orders that are for the public-health safety of all. It shouldn’t need to come to that, but Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement Wednesday that it could — if necessary.
“If there are non-exempted businesses that do not comply with the order,” he said, “I will use the full enforcement power that the Order extends to my office to ensure that they do.”
Compliance can begin with returning snowbirds who order and have shipped to them their necessities and who self-quarantine upon their return rather than running to the store. It needs to include summer residents and visitors not visiting for a while.
But it must extend to all of us taking this seriously.