By Sara Carlson, Alexandria mayor

This past week has been an unbelievably hard week for everyone in the state of Minnesota. There was so much sorrow, grief, pain and destruction. The National Guard was called out two weeks ago to do COVID-19 testing in six cities in Minnesota – then abruptly last week the National Guard was utilized to its fullest extent to protect our communities from forces that overran the Metropolitan cities. Not often would I write about praying for peace in our state and country – but after the tragic last week we have had amongst the coronavirus pandemic – prayers are a constructive and powerful thing to do.

A crisis teaches us about change real fast. We all hear that change is inevitable – lately change has been a daily occurrence here in Alexandria and Minnesota. The unrest in the Twin Cities took our focus away from the COVID virus for a few days. It did not, however, take away the COVID crisis.

Did any of you think you would be dealing with a pandemic – businesses closed, no restaurants open (open on patios now; let’s support them) distance learning for school, alternate graduation ceremonies, events and celebrations canceled, staying at home, and what about the needed haircut?

It has been painful, frustrating, devastating and downright scary at times. We had a fire that destroyed four buildings on Broadway right before we were all ordered to stay at home. The site is now torn down and leveled off. We are waiting to see what will rise from the ashes on that site – we look forward with anticipation of rebuilding there. We are thankful for our fire department and their quick actions that saved the rest of the block from burning.

What’s the silver lining? What have we learned to move us down that road to what everyone is calling the new normal – when all we want is the old normal back?

We learned how to do things differently on the fly. We learned how to be safe, to collaborate – to trust each other in our area.

We found out our hospital, our public health nursing and our emergency management team was amazing. They are prepared, organized and ready to go. We have a weekly Zoom meeting partnering with them and they are supportive and reassuring.

We learned how to pull together, even if it was over a Zoom meeting. Most of us had never even heard of Zoom before February, let alone use it every day for hours of meetings. Now we say things like, “Let’s set that up over Zoom” as if we had been doing that for years. We have become conscious of how to communicate with people with a new appreciation for what it means to sit in a meeting with people face to face – we miss that. We know we can still get things done and social distance – but, it isn’t as easy. We know that kids can be schooled at home – but, that’s not an answer for our school district or our parents.

We remember daily how grateful we are to have the great police force that we do here in Alexandria. They had been trained in implied consent, excessive force and also what human kindness looks like.

We learned that we have to balance economic well-being with the health and safety of our area and vulnerable citizens. As we begin to reopen businesses, we find that it’s not an easy balance and it doesn’t look like it did before this hit. We want our businesses to prosper and succeed in this time and come out the other end healthy and strong enough to endure.

Things at the city are fine. We have made changes – we meet and talk about plans, the biggest item being the budget. We are planning on opening up this week; however, you can still do business by phone or by not coming in if you feel more comfortable. I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to vote and be informed – know your candidates. Leadership will be of vital importance in the upcoming year – here locally and nationwide. We will have a primary election in the city in August as there are more than two candidates for mayor, at this writing. Primary elections are important, be sure to check who is running and for what.

Of course there are opinions in abundance and lines get drawn in the sand – to that end I would say: No matter what side you are on – BE KIND. Opportunities for the best in all of us are still ahead of us. The message is still that we are united and we will survive and thrive.

Sara Carlson is the mayor of Alexandria. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.