Just when I thought it was safe to go to public gatherings without a mask – healthy immune system, fully vaccinated, small group of people, COVID jumped all over me! The new variant of the virus saw me as “fresh meat” and took me OUT for a few days. When I came to, I was extremely grateful to have recovered, but I could not stop thinking about those early days of the pandemic when medical professionals and the public were trying to figure out how to manage all the COVID-19 cases.

I found an oral history we received back in 2022. The Minnesota Pandemic Oral History Project was a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage (Legacy) grant-funded project that sought to make a correlation between the public health response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. Oral historian, Barb Sommer teamed with graduate student Adam Negri and Portal Research, headed by Emil Angelica to execute the project.

In the interviews, nurses recount their experiences working with a dearth of PPE, working with patients, and managing their family lives. Some doctors talk in depth about lessons learned from the HIV epidemic, whereas others are reluctant to make a correlation between the responses to each disease. The interviews are riveting, to say the least.

I listened to ICU nurse Mary Turner talk about how she fought to get PPE for the nurses under her charge. Dr. Andrew Badley, chair of Mayo’s COVID-19 task force talks about how he and his contemporaries had to take stories about the virus in December of 2019 and prepare for a real response to the virus.

There are 11 interviews in total, 50 to 90 minutes in length. Here are some of the questions the professionals were asked:

  • What are critical challenges and needs in the healthcare response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the first year of the disease in Minnesota (March 202-March2021)?
  • Do you see similarities to critical topics and needs identified during eh early years of the HIV-AIDS epidemic or other epidemics in Minnesota?
  • What are your responses to medical racism and what impact do you think the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer had on the responses?
  • Based on your experience with the pandemic, what recommendations would you have for healthcare workers faced with future pandemics and epidemics?

The collection is available on mncollections.org, a public facing platform for accessing our archival collection. We are still working out some kinks, but you can best access the collection by searching for B279, or search for the Minnesota Pandemic Oral History Project.

by Michele Pollard, Hennepin History Museum Archivist

Mary Turner zoom photo
Mary Turner, RN (ICU)

Minnesota Nurses Association President

Dr. Andrew Badley zoom photo
Dr. Andrew Badley

Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases