By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Health leaders say COVID-19 is spreading in Minnesota at an alarming rate. And we are getting a compelling look at the fight against the virus in rural communities.

A couple weeks ago, Patty Schachtner lost her father to COVID. Her mom put on full PPE to be with him at his nursing home, as he took his final breath.

“Even though he had Alzheimer’s, he knew he was sick and he knew it wasn’t good,” Schachtner said. “She was there holding his hand when he died. And all of us were outside watching.”

For Schachtner, her personal life has intersected with her professional life. She’s the medical examiner for St. Croix County in Wisconsin, where they’ve taken measures to prepare for a COVID surge.

Only one funeral home in the county has a cooler, so in March they rented a refrigerated truck in case they experience multiple deaths at once. There were 15 trucks available at the time. Two days later, they were all rented out.

“We hear how tired and weary public health is, and then you hear how tired and weary the hospitals are, and overworked and how shorthanded they are. And then you go down to the next level, and even our funeral homes are now tired and weary,” Schachtner said.

There have been more than 4,300 COVID cases in St. Croix County and 20 deaths.

Schachtner, who is also a state senator, said her thoughts are with frontline workers who have found themselves going above and beyond to help families like hers.

“When we’re on the other side of this, hopefully it is March, there’s a lot of frontline workers that are going to need some help,” Schachtner said. “It’s just not normal to see this kind of death, this kind of sickness 24-7.”

John Lauritsen