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Wright County News

Posted on: April 1, 2020

Commissioner Charlie Borrell Explains Decision to Self-Isolate During COVID-19 Crisis

Anyone who has attended or streamed a Wright County Board meeting the last couple of weeks has noticed a significant change – there are only four commissioners sitting at the board dais instead of five. Commissioner Charlie Borrell and his wife Lynn, who has the ability to work remotely, have made the decision to isolate themselves on their Woodland Township farm during the coronavirus crisis that is impacting the world. 

Borrell doesn’t consider what he’s doing to be quarantining – he has no COVID-19 symptoms. He is simply doing what he feels is best for him and his family. 

“I wouldn’t call it self-quarantining,” Borrell said. “I feel fine. I would call it hunkering down. I don’t have any symptoms and to my knowledge I haven’t been around anybody that has the virus.” 

Borrell was feeling uncomfortable during strategic planning workshops the county board conducted March 9-12 that included a packed conference room the final three days. The tipping point came March 17. He attended a Community Action meeting where there were more than 10 people packed into a small room. He made sure there was a quorum present for the meeting to continue and then left.  Two days later, his doctor strongly advised him to not attend any more meetings in person and for him and his wife to isolate themselves to the best of their ability. 

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Borrell said. “My daughter stopped by and she and her fiancé had to stay outside in the car to visit.  We couldn’t let her in the house – and that’s my own daughter. I’m not seeing the grandkids anymore except for FaceTime.  It’s hard because I love my grandkids. They would normally come out two days a week, play on the farm and sleep over. But, in my condition, I’m almost the textbook case of the people who are the most vulnerable – I’m over 60 and I have underling health conditions.” 

Borrell, who turns 65 in June, has dealt with blood cancer for several years and has four heart stents. The cancer medication helps him maintain his strength, but it also drives down his immune system. 

With the numbers of confirmed cases rising rapidly – in Minnesota and worldwide – Borrell said the figures are stunning, and if projections are accurate, they are only going to get markedly worse. 

“It’s scary when you hear Governor (Tim) Walz say that the expectation is that between 40 and 80 percent of the people in the state are going to contract the virus. I don’t know if you can believe everything you read or hear, but, if that’s the case, it’s really scary.” 

The only significant impact to date for Borrell since most committee and advisory board meetings have been cancelled, postponed or done remotely has been that he isn’t physically present at county board meetings. 

Because of some technology hurdles he has dealt with, he has had some struggles hearing all of what is being said at board meetings while listening on a speaker phone, but said he is making the best of it. 

“It makes it a lot more difficult because you’re not physically there,” Borrell said. “The technology is OK – I’m able to participate in meetings on a conference call – but it’s hard to hear what people at the podium are saying. That makes you feel like you’re not getting 100 percent of the conversation. But, I still get calls from constituents and I help them out where I can and do my job as a commissioner.” 

Borrell has said he plans to continue to self-isolate until the social distancing protocol and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health says that it’s safe to resume some sort of normal life. How long will that be? 

“I don’t know – your guess is as good as mine,” Borrell said. “I could see this going into the summer. I’m going to do the things like social distancing. I’m impressed that the county has done some of the things they have, providing hand sanitizer, stepping up cleaning efforts and trying to make sure people sit apart and keep that distance. It’s all about keeping people safe and the county is doing what it can to do our part.” 

Borrell said he understands that this situation isn’t going to just vanish in two weeks. His worry is that, while precautions are being taken, if everyone doesn’t adhere to the guidelines, those who may not even know they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 could unwittingly pass along the virus on to an older friend or relative with dire consequences. 

“What concerns me with older folks is that they can take all the precautions in the world, but if the people caring for them don’t, they’re still going to get it,” Borrell said. “That’s what concerns me is that everyone has to follow the same procedures, especially those that are around people that are immune-compromised or elderly. A younger person might get sick or have mild symptoms or not show any of the symptoms and pass it along. If older people with conditions get it, it can be a death sentence.” 

Borrell’s stance has largely been met with positive comments. He estimated he always did about 80-90 percent of his commissioner work from home and that hasn’t changed. He is going to shelter in place as long as he feels he has to – he can still do his farming and is prepared to last out the first and second waves of COVID-19 on his farm. He noted that commissioners from other counties with similar health concerns have adopted the same isolation strategy and are attending meetings remotely.

He doesn’t see his decision as being over-reactionary or paranoid. He sees COVID-19 for what it is – a virus that is taking a staggering toll, especially with people with preexisting health concerns, and showing no signs of dialing back any time soon. 

“This is totally unprecedented,” Borrell said. “I don’t know where this is going to go and I don’t know if a lot of the experts know exactly how this is going to work or how long we’re going to be dealing with it. It’s like a bad dream that you want to wake up from and have it be over, but it’s not happening. I just feel I have to do what’s best for me and my family and I hope others are doing their best to protect themselves.”

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