St. Croix County staff (l to r, back to front) Adam Kastonek, public information officer; Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake; Assistant Deputy Secretary T.R. Williams; Colleen Linder, executive administrative assistant; Kristin Newton, ADRC administrator; Shar Lopez, behavioral health administrator; Bob Rohret, St. Croix County health director; Heather Prigge, public health nurse; Kelli Engen, public health administrator; Sue Lindberg, public health nurse; Fay Strenke, finance ddministrator; Ronda Brown, economic support administrator; Becky Kerr, CCS administrator.

For a lot of the folks we pass on the sidewalk, tip our caps to, share the obligatory nod at the stop sign with, they were content with living their lives, doing their jobs, taking care of their families, ball games, music, good food, shared meals, life being lived until, two years ago, a virus forced us to decide who was essential. 

What we learned when we had to choose was that those same folks we tipped our caps to were heroes. 

In the madness of the virus, they worked countless hours, keeping their heads while the world around them spun out of control, trying to make sense of information that changed daily if not hourly, following the science in the face of open hostility and denigration, surge after surge, no respite, no cavalry to the rescue, with only their allegiance to compassion and care and their reliance and trust in one another to get them through. 

Last Friday, April 22, in a room packed from wall-to-wall at the St. Croix County Health and Human Services Building in New Richmond, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake took time to personally recognize the sacrifice and hard work of all the frontline healthcare and mental health care workers in northwestern Wisconsin and to thank them for their sacrifice and dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today was a great visit with our Thank You Tour hosts at St. Croix County Health and Human Services Department. We are so appreciative of those who were able to join us today to help recognize the COVID-19 response efforts in northwestern Wisconsin. We are in a moment where although the pandemic is not fully behind us, it is important to reflect on where we have been and what we have learned, to celebrate our accomplishments so far, and recommit to the work that is before us.

“We know in the past 25 months, many across our state who have served on the front lines have done so at professional and personal costs. The work we have done has been in the name of serving Wisconsin, to make sure people had the information and resources they needed to make critical decisions for themselves and their families. As we move forward together, it’s important that we take a moment to acknowledge the trauma and grief caused by the losses we have experienced from COVID-19. The Thank You Tour is allowing us to see and hear about these experiences while we also recognize and celebrate the difficult work our communities have done,” Timberlake said in a  press release following the event.

Timberlake went on to emphasize the importance of partnerships and coordinating resources as essential to the successful response and the need to continue those partnerships in the future. 

“Our partners across the state have done a tremendous job connecting with their communities to address COVID-19 together. It is amazing to hear people’s stories about the resilience of how local groups united to serve Wisconsinites. Community partnerships and resilience will get us through as we recover from the mental health impacts of COVID-19.

“The different sectors and organizations represented at today’s event are a great illustration of the strong relationships that have been built across the spectrum of those involved with the COVID-19 response. Today was also an opportunity to emphasize the importance of staying aware of changing community conditions and using all the layers of protection needed to stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes getting vaccinated and boosted when you are eligible, getting tested if you have symptoms, wearing a well-fitting mask when appropriate given personal circumstances or community conditions, and staying home when you are sick.”

Tom Lindfors is a western Wisconsin freelance journalist and former Star-Observer reporter. Contact him at tom@lindforsphoto.com

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