Cow in pasture
March 18, 2020

Nursing Home Bingo and COVID-19

 |  By: Dairy Talk

I’ve been very reluctant to comment on the COVID-19 pandemic because, like everyone else, I have no idea how this mess is going to end.

But I would like to offer a little perspective from my basement office here in Minnesota. For context, I’m writing this the morning after St. Patrick’s Day.

Last Thursday, I got a call from Sharon, events coordinator at our local Nursing Home. I organize once-a-month Bingo with my Lions Club at the Nursing Home. Sandy called to tell me that the facility was officially on lock down through at least April 11 due to the pandemic.  In other words, no more Bingo for at least a month.

Last Friday, my wife who facilitates a monthly book club at our local Senior Center, was on the phone with Pam, the Center’s director. They were trying to decide whether to have book club Saturday. They decided to go forward, but have next month’s books available for immediate pick up in case some of the members were uncomfortable meeting.

Last Saturday, I worked out as normal at the fitness club at the Community Center (which also houses the Senior Center). My wife rode with me, and while the Book Club finished up, I quizzed Pam about her decision to close the Senior Center for the foreseeable future pretty much after the Book Club wrapped up. Pam told me, “The City Administrator told me he couldn’t order me to close the Center, but I pretty much had no choice given our vulnerable members.”

On Sunday, the City announced it was closing the entire Community Center. At about the same time,  Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz came on TV to announce all state schools would close for at least 10 days starting March 18. Our school board met that afternoon, and closed local schools immediately.

Meanwhile, there was still little direction from Washington, and what direction came was confusing and contradictory. Social media comments, even from farmers I respect, denigrated the overreaction of local governments and snowflake consumers. One post on Facebook read: “I’ll believe this is real when the Governor closes all bars and restaurants in Wisconsin.”

The next day, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers ordered all bars and dine-in restaurants in the state to close at 5 p.m. March 17 to avoid the over-the-top, belly-to-belly revelry of St. Patrick’s Day.

What’s the message in all of this? The first is that responsible leadership is coming from the bottom up, from Nursing Homes and small-town mayors and state governors and not from our nation’s Capital. The result is a patchwork response that could leave vast areas of the country highly vulnerable, depending on which side of the political divide local leaders find themselves.

The second is that all of us, me included, have become so siloed in who we believe that in times of crisis, we become a danger to ourselves and others.

If farmers think they are any less connected to local, national and international supply chains than scared, young parents with kids in day care and grade school, they are fooling themselves.

Just one hiccup will send markets reeling. The freeze in credit in international finance markets in 2008 caused dairy exports to cease, causing the 2009 milk price crisis. The current war of words between President Trump and President Xi Jinping in China could cause similar havoc in markets this spring.

What I’m saying is that we need a lot less on-line vitriol and a bunch more empathy to get through this thing. I’m still hopeful, but not overly optimistic.