Practicing Water Safety Amidst COVID-19

Post by Kieran White, Red Cross Volunteer

With the summer season upon us, many Minnesotans and Dakotans are headed outside to be on the lake and in the pool enjoying time with family and friends. As everyone prepares to get out of their houses and spend time in the water, we must all be reminded of the importance of practicing water safety. Now is a great time to take a few minutes to review safe water practices and the multitude of resources available to you through the Red Cross. With the continued impacts of COVID-19, public pools, lakes, and recreation centers may not be able to offer swimming lessons and lifeguarding in the same ways they have before. Continue reading to see the resources available to ensure you and your family can stay safe during these uncertain times.

Water Safety and COVID-19

Before heading to public beaches and pools this year, make sure you review the following guidelines to ensure your family and community members stay safe amidst the continued dangers of COVID-19.

  1. Continue to practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between yourself and others when at the beach and pool.
  2. Wear cloth face coverings whenever you are out of the water and around others. Do not place face masks on children under age 2.
  3. Keep an eye on your children at all times to decrease emergencies and the need for lifeguard contact with guests.
  4. If a swim area seems too crowded to be able to safely socially distance, find somewhere else to go.
  5. Check with your local pool or beach to see what guidelines they are putting in place to limit capacity and ensure safe practices for guests and employees.

Ensuring Water Safety in Every Environment

The Red Cross water safety page contains information on topics including drowning prevention, the need for water competency, and educational resources for families with children.

Drowning Prevention

This summer, with physical distancing necessary, many families will be spending more time at their home pools, lake cabins, and boats away from lifeguards and public places. It is imperative, now more than ever, to ensure you are prepared for drowning emergencies and take necessary precautions. The Red Cross recommends following the Circle of Drowning Prevention and ensuring layers of protection are in place.

  1. Provide close and constant contact with children you are supervising near the water.
  2. Fence pools and spas with adequate barriers, including four-sided fencing.
  3. Learn swimming and water safety survival skills.
  4. Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard- approved life jackets.
  5. Always swim in a lifeguarded area.

Water Competency

Make sure you and your family members are water competent before partaking in any water activities. The Red Cross recommends these five basic water safety skills to ensure you can save your life in the water:

  1. Step or jump into the water over your head.
  2. Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
  3. Turn around in a full circle and find an exit.
  4. Swim 25 yards to the exit without stopping.
  5. Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using the ladder.

If you or any members of your family struggle with completing these tasks, continue reading to learn about the educational materials available to improve upon these skills.

Educational Materials for Families with Small Children

This summer, many communities will keep their local pools and aquatic facilities closed amongst the continued dangers of COVID-19. Without access to swimming lessons and lifeguards, families must find other resources to ensure their children are safe in the water. The Red Cross has developed an interactive program called WHALE Tales where Longfellow the Whale can help your children learn to be safe in the water. This program has multiple interactive videos and activities to teach the basics of water safety. WHALE Tales also comes with a discussion guide for Parents and Caregivers to help facilitate a discussion on water safety with your child.

Whale Tales can be found online here and on the Red Cross Swim app available for download for Apple and Android.

Additional Red Cross Resources

Home Pool and Hot Tub Safety

Swimming Safely in Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

Life Jacket Safety Guidelines

COVID 19 and Aquatics

Toolkit for Lifeguard Training and Operations

Ethan Hiew – Overcoming fear to help others with COVID-19

On April 28 at the Red Cross in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ethan Hiew stepped up in big way – he overcame his fear of needles and donated convalescent plasma that will help COVID-19 patients recover.

“I’m not fond of needles and I definitely was a bit scared. But this is very relaxing and I’m just chilling out listening to some music. I’m happy I’m able to share my good health.”

Ethan, 17, is a Boy Scout and a St. Thomas Academy junior who’s aspiring to have a career in the film industry. He tested positive for COVID-19 after the illness was spread by a family member who had traveled to Europe for business.

He started having headaches. He thought the headaches were from adjusting to a new pair of glasses. But they persisted, and then he tested positive for COVID-19.

Ethan did not have severe symptoms or require hospitalization, and once he fully recovered after self-quarantine, his family talked together on how they could help others during these uncertain times. They decided to fill out the donor eligibility form on the Red Cross website to see if Ethan qualified to donate convalescent plasma for critically ill COVID-19 patients. A few days later, they heard back that Ethan was a candidate to donate.

“Ethan has never donated blood before. He was a little nervous because he almost fainted a couple of years ago during a blood draw at a doctor’s office,” said his mom who provided morale support for her son from a social distance.

“As a scout and student, giving back to local communities is very important to Ethan,” said his mom. “Our Christian faith calls for us to love and serve others – we are blessed and so proud of him that he wanted to help in such a meaningful way!”

Ethan agreed and said he would do anything to help others who had this illness. “I’m in this situation for a reason – and it must be to help!” he said.

Story and photo by Sue Thesenga/American Red Cross

Drake Hotel Fire Relief Update

Starting December 25, 2019, the American Red Cross worked 24/7 to help people devastated by the Francis Drake Hotel apartment fire that broke out at around 3 a.m. on Christmas Day. The Drake was a three-story building with 133 units and approximately 266 residents, as well as others in the community. Residents will never return.

96 percent of the Red Cross responders for the Drake Hotel fire were volunteers who supported shelter, food, health and mental health as well as housing and recovery planning. Photo: Lara Leimbach/American Red Cross

Our relief efforts began as volunteers provided support and addressed the immediate needs of people who were evacuated to city buses. After coordination with the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and other partners, a disaster shelter was opened that night at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

On December 27, Hennepin County moved 30 families to an extended-stay hotel. More than 60 people continued to stay at the disaster shelter. Resources, such as clothing, storage bins, and other supplies, were made available to prepare for a longer-term disaster shelter at First Covenant Church on December 28.

Red Cross volunteers from 20 states supported the fire relief response for former residents of the Francis Drake Hotel apartments. Photo: Lara Leimbach/American Red Cross

As of January 31, 2020, the Red Cross recorded:

  • 1,929 overnight shelter stays provided with partners
  • 11,759 meals and snacks. served with the Salvation Army and other partners
  • 2,752 health, mental health and disability contacts
  • 276 clients served by Red Cross caseworkers
  • 346 comfort kits and more than 13,900 donated relief items distributed
  • 357 Red Cross disaster responders from 20 states, 96% volunteers

On January 3 and 4, we brought together more than 40 local organizations and public agencies for a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) where social workers and community resources helped Drake residents work on recovery plans.

This work continued every day at the disaster shelter at First Covenant Church until the shelter closed on January 22. The second and final community donated-goods distribution was held two days later at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Red Cross volunteer Renee helped former Drake Hotel residents at the Red Cross disaster shelter hosted for several nights at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Photo: Lara Leimbach/American Red Cross

We are grateful to everyone across the community and region who stepped up, wrapped their arms around those affected by the Drake Fire, and did everything they could to provide the resources necessary to help them restore normalcy to their lives.

“This is why we do the training the rest of the year,” says Audrey, a Red Cross volunteer while supporting a donated goods distribution. “Working directly with the clients is truly very rewarding.”

Audrey, a Red Cross volunteer who supported Drake Hotel fire relief efforts. Photo: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

For more information about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, click here. To make a financial donation that supports our mission, click here.

Post by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Red Cross helps find a sister and best friend

After years of not knowing, a Minnesota couple from Cuba learn their beloved family member is alive and well

In one way, it took hardly any time at all to find Felipe’s sister in Cuba. Just months, in fact, once the Red Cross search formally started. In another way, it lasted years: Felipe lost contact with his sister Carmela in 1992 when he and his wife moved to Minnesota. Around that time, they exchanged their last letter with Carmela.

There was no phone number to call. More letters were sent. They received no replies. Maybe she was sick. Or worse. They assumed something bad had happened. This struck Nila the hardest. “I love her too much,” she says. For her, Carmela was more than her husband’s sister: Carmela was her sister, her family, her best friend.

Felipe and Nila left Havana in 1966 and moved to the United States where they joined her mother. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

JoAnn, a long-time family friend in Minnesota, alerted Felipe to the possibility of working through the Red Cross to find Carmela. JoAnn knew that every day for years Felipe wondered about his sister. Papi and Mami are “like my parents,” she says.

JoAnn reached out through email to the Red Cross to learn more about family tracing. Once Felipe agreed to search, local volunteers moved the process forward, informing JoAnn, who updated Felipe. When she knew it worked – meaning, when she knew Carmela was found and, most importantly, alive – JoAnn went to Felipe and Nila at once with the great news.

Married 60 years, Felipe and Nila have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. For five years in Cuba, they went on dates always with a chaperone.

The first phone call was short. Felipe’s sister used a friend’s phone to reach him. Nila was on the call too.  They shared short phrases. Hardly said anything in word count. And yet the meaning of Nila’s basic words — my sister, I miss you, I love you – say everything. “Are you well?” Felipe asked Carmela. They’ve had several more calls and exchanged more email messages with JoAnn receiving and translating them.

Red Cross volunteer Kalay helped reconnect Felipe and Nila with their sister in Cuba. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

“I appreciate the Red Cross,” says Felipe, who was excited and happy to learn that his sister was alive and well. His sister Carmela was excited, too. Her blood pressure went up, he says. They’ll have more calls, emails and letters. They’ll not lose contact again.

Story by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross. To learn more about family reconnecting services, click here.

Red Cross volunteer spotlight: Marilee of Marshall, Minnesota

When you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.

Marilee Thomas volunteers in many capacities with the Red Cross, including as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member providing comfort and essentials for people after local disasters such as home fires or floods.

“Going on a DAT call, you never know what you’re going into,” says Marilee. “Typically, you’re meeting someone during what they’re probably going to remember as one of the worst times in their life.”

We were interested to hear more about her experience especially, as she says, “I can talk all day about the Red Cross because that’s what I love.”

Marilee Thomas, on the left, pictured with volunteer Amanda Schafer.

Have you deployed to national disasters? 

I went to Houston for flooding. I went to Kentucky for another flood; it was a very violent flash flood—that was different. I went to North Carolina. I was in Wilmington. I did a virtual deployment for South Dakota and I did casework review for them.  

What is your favorite part about volunteering with Red Cross? 

Doing casework is probably my most favorite thing, I always come back to casework. Starting out just listening to them, letting them tell their story, then making the connection of referrals or what we can do to help them so that they start on their path to recovery. And it’s very rewarding to see them—sometimes they’re upset, sometimes they’re still kind of in shock, trying to process things. But then, when you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.  

What memories of responses stand out to you?

In Houston, I’ll always remember this man that [said] “I’m sorry if this is too much information, but I don’t even have a pair of dry underwear.” Just the story of how he had taken in his niece—her father had recently passed away from cancer and her mom was going through foreclosure. So, he gave her a stable place to live—or so he thought. Then the flood came, and they eventually sat on their kitchen counter tops. He was nearly crying when he said she looked at him and asked if ‘we’re going to die’ and he didn’t know what to say to her.  

In Texas, we had gone into a restaurant to eat supper and as we left, all the people stood up and they applauded—we got a standing ovation! It was just nice to know that we were appreciated that much. We don’t ask for the recognition, but we were pleased that they were that happy about us being there to help. No matter what you do with the Red Cross, you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life.

We’re always looking for more volunteers to help their neighbors in need after disasters like home fires. Tuesdays this November (5, 12, 19 and 26) from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., the Red Cross is hosting informational calls to learn more about volunteering. Please email mnrecruit@redcross.org for call-in details or to set up a time that works for you.

Interview by Caroline Nelson/American Red Cross Minnesota Region

12 Safety Tips for a Booooo-ti-ful Halloween!

Halloween is approaching and it’s safest to plan well in advance. It’s fun to dress up and collect candy, but there’s nothing fun about getting hurt! Children are twice as likely to be struck by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. By following these simple tips, everyone can enjoy the holiday without injury.

  1. Use only flame-resistant costumes.
  2. Plan the trick-or-treat route – make sure adults know where children are going. Set a time when older children must return home. Children under 12 years old should not trick-or-treat unsupervised.
  3. Make sure trick-or-treaters can see and be seen. Give them a flashlight to light their way. Add reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags. Have everyone wear light-colored clothing to help be seen.
  4. Use face paint instead of masks that can potentially obstruct vision.
  5. Swords and wands should be short and flexible.
  6. The FDA recommends consulting an eye doctor before using colored contact lenses. Non-prescription contact lenses can cause permanent vision impairment.
  7. Only visit homes that have a porch light on. Accept treats at the door – never go inside.
  8. Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. If no sidewalk is available, walk at the edge of the roadway, facing traffic. Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner. Don’t cut across yards or use alleys. Don’t cross between parked cars.
  9. Make sure an adult checks the treats before eating. Remove loose candy, open packages and choking hazards. Discard any items with brand names that you are not familiar with.
  10. Drivers – use extra caution. Excited kids may forget to look both ways before crossing.
  11. People distributing candy should turn lights on to provide visibility and remove any tripping hazards, such as a garden hose. If snow is on the ground, shovel a path.
  12. Download the American Red Cross Emergency App for free. It provides immediate access to weather updates and information on treating common first aid emergencies.

Post by Caroline Nelson/American Red Cross Minnesota Region 

Partnership in pictures: Women in manufacturing

On July 23, 2019, at the Women in Manufacturing conference in Cloquet, women made hygiene kits that American Red Cross volunteers will distribute to people in need of humanitarian aid. Photo by Jamie Lund with Pine Journal and published with permission.

USG Corporation hosted more than 50 women during the conference, which was held July 23 and 24. Part of the program included a day of service activity, which focused on supporting the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

To support service day, USG donated the kit supplies, including pillowcases, that turned into 250 comfort and hygiene kits. The kits will help at-risk military veterans and families affected by disasters, mostly home fires in northern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.

The service day event showed great leadership, teamwork and camaraderie. Special thanks go to local Red Cross volunteers Kyra, Penny, Mattie, Diane and Sophia, as well as Northern Minnesota Red Cross executive director Dan Williams.

For more about the conference, read this Pine Journal article by Jamie Lund. Click here to help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, and other relief during disasters. To learn more about Red Cross support for military families and veterans, click here.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are provided by Dan Williams with the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Thanks Dan!

Infographics to share : Heatwave

Hot weather safety tips for you, and for your to share with others, especially your elderly friends, neighbors and family members.

Many thanks to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for the helpful tips and easy-to-share infographics.

Stay cool!

Disaster affects mental health, too

Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Disasters can be devastating and extremely stressful for those impacted. Disasters can force people from their homes. For some, disaster will claim everything they own.  The American Red Cross offers these steps for people to take care of their emotional health as well as that of their family members and friends during disaster recovery, and everyday.

How you may be feeling

  • Feel physically and mentally drained
  • Have difficulty making decisions or
  • staying focused on topics
  • Become easily frustrated on a frequent basis
  • Argue more with family and friends
  • Feel tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
  • Experience changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. Try to accept whatever reactions you may have.
  • Look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your disaster-related needs and those of your family.

What you can do

  • Take care of your safety. Find a safe place to stay and make sure your physical health needs and those of your family are addressed.
  • Seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get some rest.
  • Stay connected with family and friends. Giving and getting support is one of the most important things you can do
  • Be patient with yourself and with those around you.
  • Recognize that everyone is stressed and may need some time to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Set priorities. Tackle tasks in small steps.
  • Gather information about assistance and resources that will help you and your family members meet your disaster-related needs.

Signs you may need additional support

Many people feel better after a few days. Others find that their stress does not go away as quickly as they would like and it influences their relationships with their family, friends and others. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing some of the feelings and reactions listed below for 2 weeks or longer, this may be a sign that you need to reach out for additional assistance.

  • Crying spells or bursts of anger
  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Losing interest in things
  • Increased physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless
  • Avoiding family and friends

Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Children and Disasters

Children experience traumatic events differently from adults. Experiencing a disaster can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure, particularly if this experience is not their first. Because they can’t always talk about their worries, it sometimes comes out in a child’s behavior. Some may react immediately; others may be fine for weeks or months, and then show troubling behavior. Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help parents recognize problems and respond accordingly.

They may be more agitated or act out. They may be more clingy or cry often. They may need more attention or reassurance from adults they trust. Scary memories become attached to the sounds, sights and smells that happen at the time of the experience. It’s important to remind children that they are remembering the scary thing that happened; that it’s not happening now.

Here are a few tips for talking to children after a traumatic event:

  • Provide children with opportunities to talk
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers
  • Allow kids to discuss their fears and concerns
  • Answer questions appropriate for their age.

Additional resources
Contact your local Red Cross Disaster Mental Health or community mental health professional. Please seek immediate help if you or someone you know is feeling that life isn’t worth living or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

Disaster preparedness? Easier than it sounds.

Steve with his daughter Sophie — who’s going to be a first-time driver next year and already has an emergency kit.

Personal experiences push forth the importance of being prepared. Take Twin Cities resident Steve Davis who experienced the 1996 snow storm that brought Philadelphia to a standstill. He laughingly recounts “perhaps I was the only one in Philly who had a shovel on that cold, freezing night.” Stuck in slush and not any help in the offing, Steve’s kit came to his rescue.

Steve always carries an emergency kit in his car, a habit instilled in him since his late teens by his father. Perhaps Steve’s dad knew, like we do, that disaster can happen to anyone, anytime and anywhere. Being proactive helps lessen the impact of emergencies during times of adversity.

The good news is that preparing is easier than it sounds. These three steps will get you going:

We urge everyone to be proactive when it comes to disaster preparedness. Your readiness helps you, your loved ones, and in many cases your neighbors, especially those who are especially vulnerable. Resist waiting until an emergency occurs because by then it can be too late to help.

By Sohini Sarkar, American Red Cross