Guest Column: Staying safe, healthy and smart

Published 4:52 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Guest Column by Vern Rasmussen Jr.

Vern Rasmussen Jr.


Every time I pick up the paper or go online, it feels to me as if we’re characters in a film — an approaching virus, unpredictable changes in the stock market and photos of formerly bustling cities reduced to a lone pedestrian. It made me think about how the scariest of movies are the ones in which you don’t see what’s coming.

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And indeed, over the past few days, I have had to remind myself that this is not a movie set and we, as a city, have begun to prepare for a new reality, one that as a nation, we have not seen before — a reality in which we have to go against our strongest human instinct. For it is as natural inclination to want to go help our family and friends, but every bit of expert medical advice says that for the good of ourselves and our community, it is best to stay home. And we should do just that.

With that in mind, city facilities are closing to the public until April 15. We want our community and our employees to remain healthy and safe. Staff will be working the regular hours, available by email and phone, to ensure that life carries on with minimal disruption. We aspire to deliver the same level of city services, albeit with minimal direct contact. So please, make use of email, online bill pay and our expanding array of digital services available from the library.

The financial implications of the pandemic are cause for concern. Just as all families have begun to reexamine their finances, the council has instructed staff to reevaluate planned expenditures and potentially delay capital improvement purchases. Staff has also been in touch with the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency to request that the agency explores what tools may be available on a local level to help businesses that are impacted by this uncertain economic time. Every time I pop on social media, I see posts about the bars and restaurant industry that give me pause. We will also be reaching out to our hotel operators through the Convention and Visitors Bureau to determine how the lack of travel will impact our tourism industry. And while I know that the effects of this pandemic will affect all sectors of the economy, immediate attention should be paid to the hospitality industry.

As a practicing member of the health care industry, I recognize that we have some populations that are more vulnerable. Call them to ensure they are safe. Follow the advice of physicians and public health experts. Wash your hands. Stay in if you can, and if you need to leave, recognize the importance of social distancing. Remember that if you don’t feel sick, going out could hurt someone else. It should be the goal of every Albert Lean to work to flatten that curve that we have all seen. Our health care system can be overwhelmed if too many people seek service at the same time. And, for Pete’s sake, there is no medical evidence that all that toilet paper can cure anything.

The next few weeks, or months, will be a challenge. There may be a health care crisis in Freeborn County. There will definitely be aggravation and inconvenience. But time and again in this community, I have seen us come together. I watch us transition from “I” to “we.” It is what makes me proud to be the mayor. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay smart.

Vern Rasmussen Jr. is Albert Lea’s mayor.