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

Cultivating Compassion with Red Cross Psychological First Aid Training

By CC McGraw, Red Cross Volunteer

Once COVID-19 reached the United States and everything began to shut down, it was hard to grasp the severity of this whole thing. As an athlete at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, our spring season was canceled completely, and we were immediately moved off campus and forced to complete the rest of the semester online.

Inevitably, this was a big change for all of the athletes, especially since we had grown so used to having such crazy hectic schedules and nonstop training. This was heartbreaking to say the least, but our athletics department prioritized our mental health and stress levels by taking certain initiatives of providing access to meditation apps and ensuring we were staying connected with our teams via Zoom.

CC McGraw, UMN Gopher Volleyball (photo provided by CC)

For me, those efforts were a kind of psychological first aid, a bandage for mental health. Like a good bandage, psych first aid brings mental health stability during emergencies, especially during disasters. Psych first aid mitigates acute distress and serves as a bridge to continued support and care if necessary.

Whatever the case may be, it’s always important that those affected by a disaster are provided with empathetic and practical psychological support. This begins with a strong, compassionate, and supportive presence by an American Red Cross volunteer. But it can also begin with you, now at home, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help, the Red Cross is offering online psych first aid training for free. I recently completed the training, and I realize the necessity for it now more than ever. Emotional distress is not always as visible as a physical injury, and yet it has the power to be just as painful and debilitating.

After going through a life-altering experience and traumatic event, it’s very common to be affected emotionally. Psych first aid is simply a strategy to reduce the wide range of painful emotions experienced by those with high volumes of stress.

Tips from the American Red Cross online psychological first aid training course

The training touches on the vast range of stress reactions which can be manifested in thoughts, feelings, behaviors, physical effects, and spiritual beliefs. It informs us of the many contributing factors to stress reactions and the role that they play in the distress of the individual. More importantly, it raises awareness on how to analyze the situation, then describes how to approach it accordingly.

There are a variety of actions you can take depending on the situation. However, the training provides twelve main components that you should consistently try to follow. Now that I have them, I feel a new confidence and awareness in order to approach and help those affected.

I’ve found that this training benefits my ability to aid individuals in a more compassionate and supportive way, as well as use this new knowledge to support my family, friends, and others in my community. It’s a tool we can all use to reduce our own stress levels, by simply understanding our reactions to different forms of stress and then applying the principles of psych first aid to enhance our resilience to those stressors.

I recently completed the training, and I realize the necessity for it now more than ever. Emotional distress is not always as visible as a physical injury, and yet it has the power to be just as painful and debilitating.

Of course, I continue to have my worries and doubts with all of the uncertainty that stems from COVID-19, but I also understand that this pandemic is affecting every single person in the world, in some form or another.

Regardless of the circumstance, people are having to sort out their stressors and stress reactions in order to maintain their mental health in quarantine, so this is another reason why the free and online psych first aid course from the Red Cross is so beneficial. It provides you with many forms of stress reactions, stressors, and how to manage your stress in a healthy manner.

I’ve also found that to effectively help and support those around you, you should feel confident that your mental health and stress levels are intact as well.

Desperately Seeking Sewers

Red Cross is asking home stitchers to make face coverings for service members, veterans and their family members

Face coverings volunteers sent to the Fargo VA for veterans and their families, May 2020.

Continuing Legacy
For more than 130 years, the American Red Cross has provided comfort and care to service members, veterans and their families. One long-standing activity is the Red Cross program to knit socks and helmet liners, sew coverings for casts, and crochet or quilt lap blankets for injured wheelchair patients.

We’re continuing this legacy during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis because an ongoing need exists for face coverings that people can wear on military installations, at veteran’s homes and hospitals, and other areas where they are required. To help, our volunteer workforce is joining others to help sew and distribute these coverings.

Take for example Judi, a long-time Red Cross volunteer in Minot, North Dakota. She made 170 (wow!) of the 262 we’ve given so far to the VA in Fargo, ND. “I’ve always felt that everyone should take care of our veterans, in any way that we can. It’s a small gesture, but one that’s greatly needed. It’s a privilege to be able to help,” says Judi, who’s also a military veteran.

Get Sewing
If you’re interested in making face coverings to support service members, veterans and/or their families, please read this article from the CDC for sewing and design details. We’re particularly looking for face coverings made with gender neutral, masculine, or patriotic fabrics and sewn at home by hand or machine. We especially recommend that they’re sturdy enough for industrial laundry machines.

Community stitcher JoAnn sews face coverings for distribution at the VA in Hot Springs, SD, May 2020.

JoAnn, pictured above at her sewing machine, made face coverings for the VA in Hot Springs, South Dakota. For her, taking up the sewing project was a way to come together during a time when lives have changed so much and so quickly. “I learned about the need for face masks and just one mask turned into forty!  The challenge encouraged me to keep reaching out. Thank you for the privilege and honor to assist the Red Cross and the VA.”

Stitching Tips
• Consider expanding the sizes seen in the link above to accommodate a wider variety of face types/sizes (man vs. woman, facial hair, etc.).
• Using a softer material for the interior part of the covering can make it more comfortable to wear.
• Launder and dry material prior to making face coverings to reduce the chance of shrinkage.
• Tie closures provide greatest size and comfort accommodation as well as making them sturdier for multiple washings in heavy-duty laundry machines.

Final Step
When your home stitched face coverings are ready, reach out to our Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team at minnesotadakotassaf@redcross.org for mailing or drop-off information. Working with our volunteers, our team will verify the need for face coverings with service member partners and make arrangements for delivering your home-sewn coverings to where they’re needed most across our Minnesota and Dakotas region.

Thank you so much for helping our military heroes!

An American Red Cross historical poster from World War I.

Critical need for African American blood donors

Hi Everyone,

We want to let you know that the American Red Cross has a critical need for African American blood donors to help patients, especially those battling sickle cell disease, following a significant decrease in diverse donors in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic environment.

Across the nation since mid-March, the number of African Americans donating blood with the Red Cross has dropped by more than half. This low donor turnout is largely due to blood drive cancellations at businesses, churches and schools and the disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates for African Americans compared to other ethnicities.

Despite the steep decline in blood donations, the need for blood products for patients with sickle cell disease has remained relatively steady.

So, we’re reaching out to partners, community influencers, organizations, and YOU! for support that could help raise awareness about the need for diverse blood donors, especially African American blood donors during this COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, we’re encouraging eligible donors from communities of color to keep their scheduled donation appointments and to look for open appointments at redcrossblood.org, especially in the weeks ahead as blood drives are added.

Thank you! 😘

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

“The most important tool we all have is a positive outlook.”

Red Cross disaster mental health expert shares mental health insights for times of isolation, stress, and uncertainty.

When disaster strikes or when a crisis develops we can find ourselves challenged physically, emotionally and mentally.  While we are often very good at taking care of our physical needs, in those hard times we often neglect our mental health. 

And that’s where the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team comes in.  These volunteers are highly trained and qualified helpers that can assist with keeping us mentally strong and emotionally stable during hard times. 

Terry Crandall knows all too well the challenges we are all facing with COVID-19 related stay-at-home and quarantine orders.  “Our biggest challenge right now is probably isolation and the ongoing effect of not having our usual social support network.” 

Mr. Crandall leads the Disaster Mental Health team for the Minnesota & Dakotas Region of the Red Cross.  Terry, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and an Adjunct Professor at the University of South Dakota, tells us that he started volunteering with the Red Cross in 2006. 

Since then he says with a laugh that he has now, ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ in reference to his passion for the Red Cross mission and his commitment to helping people in need of mental health help.  “That is sometimes just a shoulder to lean on and someone to tell their story to.”   

Terry believes that not having access to the people we love like our family and friends leaves most people feeling isolated and without their usual support system.  He says that feeling of isolation can lead to despair when facing this pandemic. 

“People are experiencing very normal emotional and mental reactions to this situation.  They are missing their families and friends, they are worried for kids and their studies.  Kids are missing their friends and social networks like their clubs and teams. There is uncertainty about when, or if, school will be back in session.  Proms and senior events will likely not happen for this class.” 

For almost all of us work has changed.  For those left out of work by this virus there are huge amounts of anxiety about the future.  Money concerns seem to touch everyone.   

Compounding these worries are the stressors that can come from having what may feel like, “just too much family time.”  Terry recommends families keep to a regular schedule and try to stay engaged in activities that are creative and can offer some exercise.   

Terry says that using positive imagery, relaxation techniques, and visualization tools can all help make you more resilient and able to cope in a healthier way.  “The most important tool we all have is a positive outlook.  If we can stay focused on the fact that this isn’t forever and that there will be a much better day to come, we can keep all of us mentally strong.”   

The Red Cross guide to recovering emotionally recommends several tools to help keep a positive outlook. ‘Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support, and help others when they need it.’ 

You can get disaster tools, information about recovery, and guides to coping with the stress of the COVID-19 crisis at the Red Cross website.  You can start here: shelteringathome. For more about the emotional stresses and tools that can help  you can visit this guide:  recoveringemotionally.

Are you ready to join the team?  The American Red Cross accomplishes our mission with over 90% volunteers.  We need you.  Your community needs you.  You feel the need to help make this better.  Please consider adding your talents to our team. 

If you are interested in joining the Disaster Mental Health team please see the requirements and opportunities by visiting:  mentalhealthvolunteer

To reach out for free 24/7 counseling or support, contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746. 

Story by Ray Guest, Red Cross volunteer

Healthy and able blood donors are called to keep blood on the shelves for patients in need

Thousands of blood drives canceled, resulting in tens of thousands of uncollected blood donations during Coronavirus Pandemic

The American Red Cross is working to continue delivering our mission, including the collection of lifesaving blood, but we have had a staggering number of scheduled Red Cross blood drives canceled as more workplaces, college campuses and other venues send people home and encourage social distancing. Disruptions to blood donations can lead to shortages and cause delays in essential medical care.

As of March 26, about 9,000 blood drives, representing more than 300,000 fewer blood donations, have been canceled in the U.S. due to COVID-19 concerns. In our Minnesota and Dakotas blood services region, cancellations include 311 blood drives, resulting in more than 10,360 uncollected donations. As the number of COVID-19 cases grow in our region, we expect that number to increase unfortunately.

Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood or platelets, are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App,

As concerns about the coronavirus pandemic rise, please know:

•             Donating blood is a safe process and people should not be concerned about giving or receiving blood during this challenging time.

•             More healthy donors are needed to give now to prevent a blood shortage.

•             Keep scheduled blood drives, which will allow donors the opportunity to give blood. 

As an emergency preparedness organization, the Red Cross has also taken additional steps to ensure the safety of staff and donors at each Red Cross blood drive.

•             The Red Cross only collects blood from individuals who are healthy and feeling well at the time of donation – and who meet other eligibility requirements, available at RedCrossBlood.org. 

•             We are now pre-screening all individuals by checking their temperature before they enter any Red Cross blood drive or donation center, including our own staff and volunteers. 

•             At each blood drive and donation center, Red Cross employees follow thorough safety protocols including wearing gloves, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for every donation, and preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub. 

•             Additional spacing has been implemented within each blood drive set up to incorporate social distancing measures between donation beds and stations within the blood drive.

•             The average blood drives are only 20-30 people and are not large gatherings. 

These mitigation measures will help to keep blood recipients, staff and donors safe.

Thank you for being lifesavers for patients in need in Minnesota and across the country!

7 Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu

Every year on average 8% of people in the U.S. get the flu – don’t let it be you!

  1. Get vaccinated. Everyone 6 months of age an older should get a flu vaccine every season, especially people at high risk.
  2. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others.
  3. Stay home when you are sick. Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick to prevent spreading your illness to others.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent those around you from getting sick.
  5. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
  7. Practice other good health habits. Clean frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

BONUS! Flu vaccination does not prevent blood donation. Yeah!

Download our new Flu (Influenza) Checklist that’s available in eight languages. Stay informed about public health recommendations related to flu and other health threats by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more information on disaster and emergency preparedness, visit redcross.org.

Step aside Baby Yoda: Red Cross gets soldier home in time for Baby Cory love

By Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Late on January 25, Sergeant Cory Hicks was preparing for the next day of training in Virginia when he answered a call from his fiancé, Sergeant Shanyn France in Minnesota.

“They hold each other up,” says Janelle France about the relationship of her daughter Sergeant Shanyn France and Sergeant Cory Hicks. (Family photo)

She had just taken a shower but could not get dry. “Just dry off, I told her. I can’t, she said, water is running down my leg. I got a call back later that said her water broke and that she was going into labor.”  This was one month before their baby was due.

Cory remembered his training packet and a Red Cross brochure tucked inside. The ‘Hero Care Network’ brochure explained the steps for requesting emergency communications assistance. Cory reached out to his course instructor who said maybe the Red Cross could help.

Once the test results confirmed Shanyn’s water had definitely broke, her mom Janelle France made the call to Red Cross that would get Cory home. She provided all the information needed to give him the best chance of getting home. “We were also texting Cory to try to not have him panic,” she says.

Cory rarely panics these days. He has served 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserves with the 353rd Transportation Company based in Buffalo, Minnesota. When he was 19 years old, he deployed to northern Iraq where he supported fuel missions. “If you get me behind the wheel of a trailer, I’m phenomenal at it,” he says. The premature birth of his first child was another matter. “It was nerve racking because Shanyn was dilating a centimeter every hour.”

Sergeant Shanyn France, Cory Junior, and Sergeant Cory Hicks together as a family for the first time. (Family photo)

At around 4 a.m. on January 26, a verified Red Cross message arrived and requested his return. He’d have to drop leadership training for now. It was, his instructor said, Cory’s decision. That day, he got the last seat on the last flight going to Minnesota. Word of the crisis made its way to the Delta pilots, who asked everyone to stay seated while Cory exited. “The whole plane erupted, and I got to run off the plane. It was pretty cool. That could have been the difference between me making the birth because I had just an hour to spare until baby Cory was born.”

Shanyn was scared. “I was excited, but I was scared that he was not going to make it in time because airports are always tough to get through.” She hung on while Cory raced to the hospital in Coon Rapids. “He didn’t have time to change out of his uniform. I don’t even think I gave him a hug because I was so miserable.” She then asked for an epidural after 23 hours in labor.

Being there for the birth of his child was only part of Cory’s urgency. The other part was “just being able to comfort Shanyn while she was in a lot of pain,” he says.

Baby Cory arrived one month early. “It’s pretty amazing,” says his dad Sergeant Cory Hicks who arrived with only an hour to spare before Cory Jr.’s birth. (Family photo)

“They hold each other up. And there’s nothing these two won’t do for that little boy,” says Janelle, who has worked every reserves drill weekend at unit headquarters since her daughter joined in 2016. “Without the Red Cross he would not have made it home.”

Baby Cory, also known as “CJ” for Cory Junior, is doing well at home after spending six days in a neonatal intensive care unit. Cory was there throughout each. He’s grateful for what the Red Cross does for service members. “Over the 12 years of my military experience I’ve heard about Red Cross, saw it work for others. I was skeptical until I had to use it. Someday I hope to give back.”

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military and veteran families.

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