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How are you feeling today?

News of a widespread public health concern like COVID-19 (Coronavirus) can present new or unique challenges and with information changing daily, it can be difficult to maintain feeling your best.

You may be working from home, or maybe your facility is closed. Or, maybe you are on the front lines keeping essential services running. Meanwhile, the whole family is home together, you’re doing the distance learning and trying to keep an eye on the kids so they’re doing their schoolwork. How do you cope?

Here are a few healthy ways to cope with the pandemic.

First, go for a walk at a time that works for you. Maybe go on a bike ride over lunch hour; even though you’re working from home, it will help keep an at-work routine. Whatever works for you, move your body. It will help.

Second, have you ever tried guided meditation? I know, maybe not your usual go-to! But seriously, it’s a good way to bring yourself into the present and breathe and just be aware of what your body is doing. Meditation is simpler to do than what many think. In fact, it can be as simple as breathing! Try the breathing exercise on this meQuilibrium resource page.

Third, listen to music! Music can have a profound effect on both the emotions and the body. Faster music can make you feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life.

A slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Read more and try out some music therapy with this link.

Finally, find one thing to be grateful for. That can be really hard when you have financial stress or when you have anxiety about the future, but if you can, find just one thing to be grateful for and then say it out loud. It’ll feel unnatural at first, but then it starts to become a little more comfortable: ”I’m grateful to offer help to our employees.” That’s mine today.

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Things to know about the Novel Coronavirus

Information about the 2019 novel coronavirus is now headline news. This new strain of viral respiratory illness was first identified in Wuhan, China, but has since spread to other areas of the world, including the United States. Scientists are working to better understand the virus and answer questions about its severity and duration and how easily it can be transmitted between people.

New form of a common virus

“Coronavirus is the name of a family of viruses that we’ve known about for a long time. In fact, a form of it causes about 30% of cases of the common cold. But this strain is new and there is still much to learn about it,” explained John Piatkowski, M.D., Medica’s Senior Medical Director.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are monitoring the new virus outbreak closely. As of March 2, there have been tens of thousands of confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths worldwide from the new virus strain including an estimated 100 diagnosed cases and six deaths in the United States. In comparison, there have been an estimated 26 million diagnosed cases and 14,000 deaths from influenza in the United States in the current flu season.

The health and well-being of our members is a priority for us and we will continue to monitor the status of the coronavirus. As with any other viral illness, Medica will cover diagnostic testing and care that is supported by the member’s health plan benefits.

How to protect yourself

“The best defense against any type of viral illness is to avoid being exposed to it. The infectious disease experts who are tracking coronavirus recommend the same everyday precautions you already use to avoid catching a cold or the flu,” said Dr. Piatkowski.

These include:
Wash your hands thoroughly – and often – with soap and water.
If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Stay at home when you are sick.

Learn more

Both the CDC and MDH offer helpful information on coronavirus and related viral illnesses:
CDC Coronavirus Website
CDC Travel Health Notices:
MDH Coronavirus Website


Sarah Reasoner

Sarah Reasoner has been an All-America track star, a bodybuilder, and a champion powerlifter. But firefighter is the job that really ended up being her calling.

As Sarah told the Star Tribune recently, “I put on that gear and I knew. This was it. This is what I wanted to do.” She added: “A lot of this job is realizing that we’re supposed to help people, and this world is not about us.”

Reasoner has only been with the department full-time since July. But she’s already one of its best-known firefighters. As shown in the attached photo, she was recently named one of the world’s strongest firefighters in Santa Monica, California in a competition hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Coming in 5th, was the event’s first female competitor.

Reasoner welcomes the physical demands of being a firefighter.

During a recent workout at a gym in northeast Minneapolis, she focused on strengthening her legs and back — doing dead lifts and leg curls. The workouts help her perform better in a job that has already involved going into burning buildings in full gear, she said.

After doing well on the written test, Reasoner spent the summer of 2018 training for the physical exam. In September 2018, on her 30th birthday, she not only passed it but broke the record.

Reasoner graduated from the three-month academy at the end of June and has been on the job since the start of July. For her first three years, she’ll rotate from station to station as needed, filling in for firefighters who call in sick, go on vacation or who are injured. She said she loves the collegiality. She loves the need for teamwork. She loves the physical demands of the job. Her goal is to be a firefighter her entire career.

This job is everything and more of what I wanted it to be,” she said. “It’s challenging every day. Every day, you learn.”

Despite the recent accolades, Reasoner said she simply wants to become the best firefighter she can be. And while she enjoys the strongman contests, she savors doing something meaningful with her strength.

“It’s pretty humbling to know there are guys who have been on this job and women who have been on this job who can run circles around me,” she said.

“It’s humbling and motivating to know that my crew depends on me. And the citizens of St. Paul depend on me.”

Story excerpted from

in the spotlight

5 Ways to Improve Your Heart Health

Five Ways to Improve Your Hearth Health

If you worry that you or someone you love will get heart disease or even have a heart attack, it’s understandable.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Research shows you can lower your risk, particularly if you team up with family, friends or co-workers. This kind of social support may be the key to your success.

To mark American Heart Month, NHLBI, one of the National Institutes of Health, is inviting people across the country to team up and join #OurHearts, a national heart health initiative that encourages people to improve heart health together.

“Studies show that having positive, close relationships and feeling connected to others benefits overall health, blood pressure, weight and more,” said NHLBI’s Dr. David Goff, director of cardiovascular sciences.

Consider these five tips that can help lower your risk of heart disease:

Risk: Inactivity


Move more throughout your day. Aim for at least 150 minutes each week of physical activity. Build up to activity that gets your heart beating faster and leaves you a little breathless. If you’re busy, try breaking your daily activity into 10-minute chunks.

Stay motivated: Make walking dates. Join a pickup soccer or basketball game. Join a fitness class with your neighbor. Grab a loved one and dance in your kitchen.

Risk: An unhealthy diet


Consider an option like NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is free and scientifically proven to lower high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

Stay motivated: Invite friends to cook up heart healthy recipes together. Start a lunch club at work and trade recipe ideas.

Risk: Smoking, even


Quitting can be beneficial to your overall health, even if you’ve smoked for years. Set a quit date and let those close to you know. If you’ve tried quitting in the past, consider what helped and what made it harder.

Stay motivated: Ask your family and friends for support or join a support group. Find resources and connect with a trained counselor at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or

Risk: Inadequate or poor-quality sleep


Sleeping 7-8 hours each night helps improve heart health. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Getting a 30-minute daily dose of sunlight may also improve sleep.

Stay motivated: Resist that late afternoon nap. Turn off all screens at a set time nightly. Relax by listening to music, reading or taking a bath.

Risk: Uncontrolled stress


To help manage stress, try relaxation therapy and increase physical activity. Talk to a qualified mental health provider or someone you trust. De-stressing may also help improve sleep.

Stay motivated: Join a friend or family member in a relaxing activity like walking, yoga or meditation every day.

Learn about heart health and heart healthy activities in your community at Use #OurHearts on social media to share how you and your friends, colleagues or family members are being heart healthy together.


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Pathway to 3500

Starting January 2020, earn a total of 3,500 points to qualify for your full $900 HRA contribution. Just 1,500 points needed for a $300 HRA contribution. And, earn Medica incentives along the way!

My Health Rewards by Medica is now powered by Virgin Pulse, a pioneer in digital health and wellness solutions that help you build healthy habits and live your best life. Whether you want to eat healthier, sleep more, stress less or get fit, My Health Rewards is an online tool that helps you take small steps to reach your health goals.

In addition to the well-being program, Healthy Saint Paul supports you throughout the year by offering a variety of exercise classes, challenges and promotions.

One pathway to 3500
Health Assessment
Biometric Screening
Set Goal
Journeys (2x)
Next Steps
Another route to 3500
Health Assessment
Biometric Screening
Set interest (2x)
Phone coaching
Next steps
Make your own way to 3500 by choosing from our list
of activities here!

Don’t Forget to Get More!

Earn rewards for healthy behavior. Rewards encourage and motivate you to complete healthy programs and activities. Redeem points for e-gift cards, or shop for health and fitness products in the Virgin Pulse store. You can even donate your rewards to a charitable cause.


Josh Hern

Josh is an Accountant in Fire, working with grants and the budget process. He has been with the City for almost exactly one year (January 22.)

About four months ago, Josh had his body composition analyzed by a machine that was on temporary loan to the Fire Department. This machine measures the levels of fat, muscle and water in the body. Josh remembers being shocked at the results! He had been running, feeling ok – in no way imagined he had reached 190 pounds with a lower distribution of muscle than desired. He decided to “kick it into high gear.”

First he evaluated what he was eating – meals and snacks. What WAS he snacking on? Josh made healthier choices, forgoing Pop Tarts for almonds and string cheese. He remarked that as an 11-year-old he was thin as a rail and could eat whatever he wanted, but is sadly no longer the case. We lamented for a moment the loss of Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts – a personal favorite for both of us!

Josh also increased his water intake, eventually reaching his goal of a gallon per day. In terms of workouts, he incorporated a mix of weights and cardio. He used a program called ’80 Day Obsession’ as an overall guide to workouts and attention to diet.

Josh dropped from 190 to 177, creeping up a bit to 180 during the holidays, but is working on getting back to 177. He has learned that it really comes down to what he puts into his body. “It’s about making conscious choices,” says Josh. “A friend or coworker may encourage you that ‘it’s just one cookie’ or it’s just one donut’, which might be true in that moment. But if you have ‘just one’ several days a week, it adds up.”

Josh said that Jody Griffin, our December Employee Story, was exactly right: it has to be long term. As he said, “this is my lifestyle now.”

in the spotlight

Open Enrollment Wrap Up

77% of City employees took the opportunity to ensure their benefits for 2020 are exactly what they want. Whether you changed health plans or not, EVERYONE will get a new ID card because of the change in pharmacy vendor.

2020 elections are still in a pending status, so they will not display as “current benefits” until January 1. If you have questions in the meantime about your elections, contact Jane, Rachel or Nance Lee on the Benefits Team.

ERN the BURNers!

Remember how stressful it was to not see your points show up on the Medica portal? So you went to the MeQuilibrium app to help with your stress, but then THOSE points didn’t show up either?
Well, no more!

Starting in January, all City-sponsored wellness options offered outside of Medica will still be listed on the new Virgin Pulse portal. All your points in one place!
We are getting ready to test the new system. Shortly after that, we will begin communicating how to get there and get started with your 2020 program.


Beth Ulrich and Dan Bayers

Beth Ulrich and Dan Bayers are long-time employees in Planning and Economic Development. Combined, they have nearly 60 years of service to the City of Saint Paul.
Dan and Beth have been part of a walking group at lunch for years. An average of four times a week, no matter the weather, they walk downtown over their lunch hour.

Dan and his sister had been planning to hike the Grand Canyon for a long time. They thought they could go down, camp one night, then come back the next morning. For five years in a row they applied for a camping permit, but did not get in as there is a limited supply.

Eventually they decided to do it all in a day. No camping meant no overnight equipment required, which made for an easier, faster hike.

Dan mentioned to Beth that he and his sister had their plan in place. Beth wanted to go too – in fact, her sister wanted to go along! So, it became a four-person adventure.

Beth did a lot of reading and research. The hike from the North Rim to the South Rim is 24.5 miles in length, with another two miles added for descent and ascent. Nearly all accounts of “average hikes” indicated that the last six miles were usually brutal.

They prepared by months of training. Dan’s hikes ranged from 7 to 24 miles depending on the day, including training carrying 19-pound packs at Afton Hills. Beth and her sister trained on the Stillwater Stairs – 12 circuits equal a mile. Dan’s sister, who lives in Denver, has hiked the Colorado Trail for two weeks so was more than ready. The rest of the group flew out a week in advance to acclimate to the altitude. Beth and her sister hiked Bryce and Zion Canyons first to get some practice.

The group was also prepared for emergencies: for example, they had a filtration system at the ready in case water lines were not open.

They began at 5:30 am, when it was still dark. For the first hour, they could only see about a foot in front of them. Twelve and a half hours later they arrived at the top of the South Rim. Beth remembers being about three miles into that last six when she realized “This is not so bad!” It turned out they had trained so well that none of them got even the tiniest sore muscle.

Laughing, they agreed the worst part was Beth slowing them all down by having to repeatedly tie her shoelaces.


ERN the Burn Event

On September 17th city employees gathered at Raspberry Island to learn a variety of ways to de-stress and were given a multitude of ideas on how to create more joy and happiness in our life. Presented by Kara Hirdman, our City of St. Paul ERN the BURN wellness coordinator, we were surrounded by the beauty of the Mississippi river and were offered practical steps to improve our health and wellbeing.

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Virtual Care

Virtual care*, also known as online care or an e-visit, is a convenient way to get care for many common conditions. Connect with a provider from your computer or mobile device to get a diagnosis, treatment plan and prescription (if needed).

Virtual care may be a time-saving option for common conditions like:
Allergies, High blood pressure
Bladder infection, Migraines
Bronchitis, Pink eye
Cold and cough, Rashes
Ear pain, Sinus infection
Flu or other non-urgent, common health conditions

With a virtual care visit, you:

  • Save time — avoid a trip to the doctor’s office and get care from the comfort of your home, work or wherever you are.
  • Initiate the visit at your convenience — no appointment needed.
  • Get care when you need it — visits are often available after clinic hours, sometimes even 24/7.
  • May save money — a virtual care visit may cost less than a regular visit to the doctor’s office, depending on your plan.

To check your plan’s coverage for virtual care, log on to, select Look Up My Benefits and click on Coverage Documents. Look for “virtual care” under the Physician Services section. Or call Customer Service at the number on the back of your Medica ID card.