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As President-elect Joe Biden stands at the most difficult starting point for a president since Franklin D. Roosevelt began his first term amid the Great Depression, there are optimists in the country who, like me, have high expectations that he will deliver a stirring inaugural address that inspires not only his followers but at least a fraction of those who didn't vote for him to seek unity. Roosevelt's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" comes immediately to mind. It's a high standard for a speech, but there have been other great inaugural phrases, almost as notable, and upon reflection I see all of them as applicable to our current crisis:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds" (Abraham Lincoln, 1865).

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" (John F. Kennedy, 1961).

"How can we love our country but not love our countrymen?" (Ronald Reagan, 1981).

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America" (Bill Clinton, 1993).

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America" (Barack Obama, 2009).

And one more, delivered by Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon resigned after Watergate. It's perhaps too partisan for this year, but it's my vote for the past inaugural address that best fits 2021: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."

Ted Field, Mahtomedi

BACK IN SCHOOL

With clear rules, schools can reopen

Getting Minnesota schools up and running and kids returning to classrooms is crucial ("Some of Minnesota's youngest students go back to school," StarTribune.com, Jan. 19).

As an educator for the Harrisburg School District in Harrisburg, S.D., I, too, had "the jitters" about returning last fall. Trepidation was widespread. With major planning, adherence to guidelines, an all-in district philosophy, strong leadership and a diligent administrative staff, we pushed forward day after day, month after month. As the semester ended right before Christmas, there was a sigh of relief. We made it!

How did this happen? Mask requirements for everyone — no politics tolerated; steadfast contact tracing; social distancing; quarantining; and clear restrictions if COVID numbers started to grow. At Harrisburg High School where I teach, the principal also made an appeal to seniors — that if they didn't want their senior year shortchanged, they had to lead by example. No one complained. Everyone did his or her part to follow the new rules to make sure the school stayed open.

After watching students falling woefully behind in my school when remote learning was mandated last spring, I was grateful that South Dakota schools started up this fall. Kids are still behind, but their presence in the classroom has helped their grades climb and their learning grow.

I don't have that same hopeful feeling for Minnesota students. With my three of grandchildren attending Minnesota schools, I have felt a growing sense of fear about their education as a good share of the 2020-21 school year has been spent in remote learning. Their reading and math suffered last spring and, with a growing education gap, their remote learning this winter has been sluggish.

Minnesota schools should rethink plans for in-person learning and find a positive mind-set these next few months. Kids need to be in classrooms. School can go on — when everyone is willing to make a few sacrifices.

Virginia Olson, Sioux Falls, S.D.

COVID VACCINATIONS

Hours in a waiting room for naught

Like most Minnesotans in the 65-and-older category, I'm fully aware that COVID doses are in short supply and we all need patience. Still, I was astounded by the Minnesota Department of Health's apparent poor planning in making appointments to give COVID shots to people my age. First, MDH said, don't call us, we'll call you. Then, an article in the Star Tribune invited us to call to schedule an appointment. Making the call put me in a virtual waiting room for hours, with no way to tell how long the wait would be, much less the outcome. Widely available technology says "you are caller number 53" and lets you know as you move toward the top of the list. Instead, thousands of Minnesota seniors are getting to spend anxious hours in virtual waiting rooms, with the likelihood they'll be told there are no more appointments available and to please try again next Tuesday.

Can't we do better than this?

Steve Conway, St. Paul
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Like many, I have been searching for some definite information relative to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. I wasn't looking to buck the line; I just wanted to know an approximate time frame. My phone calls always referred me to websites that resulted in fog-ball responses such as: "We are waiting for direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." Last Friday, I received a concise letter from the VA stating that due to my age (91) and health record, I could now contact the VA office to schedule an appointment. I made the call and told the respondent that I just wanted to know how to get in line. Expecting an administrative runaround, I was surprised when it took me just a couple of minutes to make the appointment.

I was further surprised when I arrived for the vaccine; there were signs everywhere that directed me to the correct clinic area. After two pleasant check-in points I was led to the station where the vaccine was administered. I was in and out in less than 40 minutes including the 15-minute post-shot waiting period. I salute all who planned and executed that system.

Richard Cole, Minneapolis
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When dealing with supply and demand, how do you maximize chaos? Expand demand to many multiples of supply. Severely limit the number of supply points. And limit the access to those points to only a few mechanisms. Say in the case of COVID-19 and the vaccine: Make a million people eligible for what is reported as 12,000 doses this week; set up nine pilot sites for administering the vaccine across the entire state; and provide two channels for appointments ("Vaccine eligibility expands in state," front page, Jan. 19).

I don't minimize the challenges here, but come on, Minnesota, can't we do this smarter? Try to match the size of the eligible population to the number of supply centers and to the expected supply. (From what I've read the federal government is not ordering the states to expand the eligible pool to 65 and older.) Create multiple access points to make appointments, e.g., a website along with phone centers and perhaps an e-mail address to which eligibles can send requests for an appointment, to be responded to in order and as staff can handle the volume. This would make maximum use of admittedly limited staff while reducing the likelihood of a crashed website or people endlessly dialing a phone number to try to get in.

The goal: Try to balance the supply and demand to minimize chaos and frustration for everyone.

Michael O'Keefe, Minneapolis

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