Panelists advise ways to stay connected but safe


It looks like people are stuck sharing gravy with the those in their immediate
household this Thanksgiving, as COVID-19 leaves them scrambling like turkeys with their heads chopped off.

“COVID is the reason why our holiday season is going to look different,” said Brittany Wright of Insight News and moderator of the AALF forum, “We Good; COVID-19 and Black Minnesota.”

As Thanksgiving and other holidays that normally encourage social gathering are fast approaching, the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) last week discussed ways to social distance during the holiday season.

Panelists included: Adrienne Thornton, nurse and prevention specialist at Children’s MN; Marnita Schroedl, CEO and founder of Marnita’s Table; Marlee Dorsey licensed professional and clinical counselor; Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, licensed clinical psychologist; and Rosemond Sarpong Owens, director of Health Equity at Blue Cross
Blue Shield Minnesota.

“There are over 200,000 deaths in the United States and there are over 200,000 cases in Minnesota,” declared Thornton, a regular panelist on AALF’s biweekly town halls. “Black and Brown people continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID.”

Based on data from Minnesota’s COVID Response, Black people are testing positive over at twice the rate of White people. Latinx people are testing positive almost three times more than White people. And Native, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islanders are testing positive 2.5 times more than White people. “As of this week, we are at a 10% positivity rate. That is not related to us increasing testing, that’s related to the fact that we are seeing more transmission occur in the community,” Thornton explained.

After consecutive weeks of record-breaking COVID-19 positive cases in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz announced new restrictions that went into effect on November 20.

Thornton explained that about 63% of cases of community exposure have occurred in private residences. Small gatherings and get-togethers in homes are partially
to blame for COVID-19 surges.

“If you are going to be eating dinner, you surely need your plate over there, you can’t be sitting side by side like we used to,” said mental health professional Dr. Garrett-

Traditional Thanksgiving will be put on hold for many this season to allow for social distancing and limited private residency exposure.

“Similar to what happens at the table, everyone is invited in this pandemic to a new way of being, to rethinking the way we do holidays,” Wright added.

Marita’s Table is used to hosting large Thanksgiving feasts so delicious that people ask to make reservations for it in August, boasted the owner.

Because of the pandemic, owner Marita Schroedl is having to significantly downsize. “It’s just the five of us this year: my husband, myself and our three children,” she said. Not even her children’s partners will be present at the dinner.

But this pandemic isn’t stopping Schroedl from feasting with people safely. In conjunction with Minnesota’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, Schroedl explained, “We had 58 people on Zoom last night where we delivered meals to their home,
socially distant, and all of us had a meal together while having a conversation about our well-being,” Schroedl said.

According to the Director of Health Equity at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Rosemead Sarpong Owens, the health care insurer is the largest in the state
with one out of three Minnesotans enrolled.

Following the death of George Floyd, the company has pledged to listen to the community and take action against racial inequities. Blue Cross Blue Shield has begun hosting community conversation events as a way to encourage listening and combat systemic racism.

Marita’s Table sends meals to participants and provides those in need with a tablet and Wi-Fi, so marginalized communities are able to participate and social distance, Schroedl said. This has become especially festive with the holiday season approaching.

It isn’t encouraged to gather physically but technology has enabled people to still be together socially, despite distance. “Even when we are physically distanced, you can still feel the connection,” said Owens.

“Technology can be our friend,” Schroedl echoed. “On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I think I will be live in my kitchen…doing a few of my recipes.”

Panelists made it clear that in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19, it’s important, especially during this holiday season, for everyone to do their individual part.

Thornton explained that the reason the United States is struggling is because people are focused on their individual freedoms. “We are so egocentric and so focused on me, we don’t care how it impacts anyone else. We are going to do what we want to do regardless of what the guidelines say.”

Encouraging others to social distance and setting personal boundaries may curve the spread of this pandemic was the consensus among the panelists.

“Being in a pandemic is like doing a group project at school,” Wright said. “I’m going to do my part but my partner may not do theirs and it may be bad for us.”

“My recommendation is to make plates and do drive-by visiting,” Garrett-Akinsanya concluded. “Wave from the window and talk from the porch, whatever you
can do to make sure you’re safely distancing.”

AALF will be hosting its next meeting on Dec. 2 at 11:30 am (CT). Visit the organization’s Facebook page @aalfmn for more details.