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Minnesotans face a long, hard winter with COVID-19 and, for each of us, mental health will be challenged. Just how challenged depends on just how safe we feel as we go about our lives.

In the Sept. 27 article "What Republicans would do differently on virus," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka criticizes the COVID statutes instituted by Gov. Tim Walz as "unilateral" mandates, leaving people no say. Gazelka suggests owners of small bars or restaurants decide for themselves how to manage COVID and at what capacity to seat. I remember the video clips of people becoming belligerent to the point of drawing guns when asked to put on face masks.

What we need to safely survive the coming winter are clear guidelines on what constitutes healthy COVID behavior, enforceable because we all need assurance that everyone will adhere.

What Gazelka may be missing here is that when COVID reaches high prevalence, the game changes. Simple activities become unsafe — activities that preserve mental health, like running errands or walking with a friend.

Even the most conscientious of us make mistakes as we try to be safe. Masks get forgotten during brief errands, contaminated surfaces get touched, small rooms force us too close to someone wearing his mask below his nose. When viral prevalence is low, we can get away with little slip-ups. But when viral prevalence is high, it can be catastrophic. Ultimately, the virus makes the rules; we don't.

Dr. John Sandgren, Edina

The writer is a retired physician.

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I was interested to see if Gazelka's opposition was rooted in a carefully considered study, or if it was simply "if you say it is so, I must say no."

Walz's response has not been perfect; no one has made all the right decisions. Most governors have had to deal with mixed messages, broken promises and a severe lack of protective devices. The horrible situation in nursing homes and congregate care facilities was regrettable. However, it was a problem without a good solution.

The Republicans in the Legislature have challenged every decision Walz has made. The governor does not want small businesses to close. He does not want people to lose their jobs. He does not want children to fall behind in school. But he is relying on the advice of medical experts to minimize the spread of this virus. Most medical practitioners who have experience in communicable diseases advise masks, distancing, limiting the size of gatherings. The Republican response was to recommend but not mandate the use of masks, to not mandate limiting the size of gatherings, to open schools, etc. Meanwhile, cases are increasing in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Iowa. Contrary to what some people are arguing on social media, this rise is not caused by wearing masks. Herd immunity is not on the horizon, certainly not without a huge increase in lives lost.

This pandemic has been the most overwhelming health crisis in decades. We might see an end to this nightmare sooner if we all join the same team.

Kathleen Breen, Shoreview

COVID-19 DIAGNOSIS

Encourage our better angels, sure. But also hold Trump accountable.

If I'm assuming positive intent in the Star Tribune's Oct. 3 editorial ("Politics can wait after Trump diagnosis"), I have to guess that the Editorial Board's goal is to appeal to readers' better angels and to remind us that we still have the capacity to be a united America. Fair enough.

There is cause to be solemnly concerned about the nation at this moment (for a variety of reasons; witness Thomas Friedman's Oct. 1 commentary, "This is how democracies perish," among other sources), and Joe Biden is making the right (and decent) move in backing away from negative advertising for now. We could all stand to emphasize our own human impulses toward charity and the public good. But the reality is that President Donald Trump and his cronies endangered Americans by failing to respond adequately to the COVID-19 crisis. They've now put the nation at risk by their own foolish refusal to follow simple disease-prevention protocols. They don't get a pass for that behavior.

Christie Burke, Richfield

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When a family member was exposed to another with COVID-19, the rest of my family got tested and quarantined awaiting the test results. It was inconvenient but the right thing to do. Several days later we received the results — which were negative. We continued to isolate for the rest of the two weeks, just in case the results were a false negative. It was inconvenient but right thing to do.

Yet when U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber received the results of their tests, as a seeming matter of convenience, they chose to fly home to isolate ("After exposure, congressmen fly home," Oct. 3). Given the risks of air travel — other passengers infected or traveling under a false negative test result — it would seem that if each stayed in their residences in the D.C. area, it would have been the right thing to do.

If we are to make any headway in limiting the pandemic, we must all choose the right things to do, rather than just those convenient. Even our elected officials.

Gregory Reinhardt, Excelsior

LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

Let's not forget who brought the legal case in the first place

A Sept. 27 letter writer outlined the good work that the Little Sisters of the Poor do and criticized the Obama administration for keeping them in court for years. What the writer did not acknowledge is that the Little Sisters were "used" by a wealthy right-wing legal organization claiming, of course, religious liberty.

Little Sisters of the Poor has many health care, low-income workers who need free access to birth control that was to be provided by all employers. The majority on the U.S. Supreme Court who heard the case did not acknowledge that the person who bears the responsibility for taking the birth control is the person who actually uses the birth control, not the person(s) who signs the paper for the health care insurance. The lawyers for Little Sisters of the Poor also claimed that the birth control was a form of abortion, but that was not factually correct. Irony is not lost on many who would have seen free access to birth control as an excellent way to drastically reduce the number of abortions.

Corinne Robinson, Minneapolis

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To the Sept. 27 reader supporting the Little Sisters: Let's set the record straight. The Sisters and other applicants brought a suit against the Affordable Care Act requirements of providing full insurance to employees, citing their objection to coverage of contraception under the ACA. The Obama/Biden administration did not sue the Little Sisters.

Mary K. Lund, Minnetonka

DEMOCRACY AND THE INTERNET

What the past lacked, and ways to fix how information is received

While I agree with Jack Davies ("Can democracy survive the internet?" Opinion Exchange, Sept. 27) that the days of Walter Cronkite and John Cowles consisted of more trusted news reports, we can't overlook the flaws of that system — namely, that the vast majority of editors were white men. Unconscious bias (or even at times, overt bias) resulted in stories that reflected and promoted the white male perspective. One thing the internet has done well is democratize who is telling the stories.

And I agree with Davies that the internet is hurting our democracy for the reasons he describes. I believe the solution lies in required media literacy education in grades K-12. I have taught an introduction to mass communication class at a university, and many of my students have never learned how to properly evaluate digital sources of information. For those who had, it was a small unit within an English class. Surely this is as important as STEM education. Let's give it the attention it deserves.

Rachael Hanel, Madison Lake, Minn.