The COVID-19 caution sign lies trampled flat on the ground while empty cups and a child’s forgotten swim top also litters Mankato’s Hiniker Pond Park.

The “Closed Beach” sign on the bathhouse has been ignored by many during the recent warm days. The same goes for other lakes and ponds around the area as beaches grow increasingly crowded as temperatures climb.

And the reason is perfectly understandable: It’s summer and we want to play outside like we usually do.

Except nothing is usual about this summer.

Minnesota is still in the thick of the novel coronavirus pandemic. More aggressive testing reveals new cases daily; many intensive care beds are filled by COVID-19 patients; and daily death tolls are still in double digits.

Another Nicollet County death reported Thursday brings the county’s total to 11 fatalities. It was one of 29 new coronavirus-related deaths across the state for the day. Since March, the state has lost 1,115 residents to the virus. The state has confirmed 26,273 cases since the pandemic began.

To complicate the situation even more, thousands of protesters who took to the streets after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25 are now being urged by the health department to get tested. The state is bracing for a surge in cases.

When it comes to outdoor activities, authorities don’t have time to spend clearing beaches and warning people to not cluster in public places. The Blue Earth County Board this week discussed not expecting park caretakers to police beaches as part of their duties. Fencing would get torn down, county officials figured, so warning signs will have to do.

So it’s up to people to be smart about their actions outdoors, not just at beaches but everywhere. They can choose to respectfully keep a minimum of 6 feet away from one another, whether that be on a beach, a walking trail or at a boat launch. They can give pedestrians fair warning when passing them while running or biking, giving people a chance to move over or walk single file. They can bring hand sanitizer for their children who use public playgrounds.

Gov. Tim Walz’s order still in place keeps the beaches closed. He may, indeed, loosen up that restriction in mid-June, but even that wouldn’t change the safety guidelines outlined by state and federal health experts.

It’s true that being outdoors is generally a safer alternative than being indoors with other people. We are fortunate to have quick access to nature. But sharing space with anyone who doesn’t live in your household still may spread the virus, whether you have symptoms or not.

The reality of the continuing risks doesn’t fade as the sun grows stronger. That cautionary sign bent to the ground at Hiniker Pond made that message clear, even if no one is reading it.

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