Tuesday’s meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners saw a familiar face come back to an unfamiliar place in recent months, as Commissioner Charlie Borrell returned to the county boardroom for the weekly county board meeting for the first time since March.
Borrell, who has a number of health conditions that made him a prime target for a higher-than-normal likelihood of having significant issues if he contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus, has not been at a board meeting at the Government Center since March 17.
Like many others, he has been attending meetings remotely through virtual means. For most people, using platforms like Zoom Webex and Teams was something new to their experience, but forced upon them by COVID-19. Borrell said the process has been challenging as the county has tried to jump the hurdles of trying to connect multiple users from numerous locations into one seamless system.
“It’s difficult doing board meetings remote,” Borrell said. “It’s hard to hear sometimes. If more than one person has the microphone open, you feedback or an echo. We’ve never done this sort of thing before, so there have been some bugs we’ve had to try to clear up so you can hear who is speaking from different parts of the boardroom. You don’t have the same level of interaction and the little nuances of the conversations when you’re not there.”
While Borrell and his wife have isolated themselves as much as possible, he said the transition hasn’t been as difficult for him as it has been for others who have opted to stay at home to distance themselves from others, because, as a farmer, he did most of his work alone in pre-COVID times.
However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss out on the little things that brighten up the days of most people – the connection to family. He also hasn’t lost his sense of humor during the pandemic.
“It’s actually been better for me in my day-to-day life than it would be for somebody else,” Borrell said. “I farm, so a lot of the things I do ordinarily I do alone or with my wife. On that aspect, it hasn’t been a huge change, but it has been difficult when it comes to family. It’s so difficult to distance yourself from the grandkids. My daughter has done a good job explaining to them why and they’re really good about it, especially for a 3- and 4-year old. It’s hard for us. My wife broke down about a month ago and gave the grandkids a hug, but she told me, ‘It was just a little hug.’ I told her, ‘We’ll put that on my tombstone.’”
The primary reason Borrell returned to the boardroom was the result of a statewide mask mandate by Gov. Tim Walz and the OK given to him by his doctor. He’s not in lockstep with the idea of forcing people to wear face coverings, but understands that, for life to move on with some sense of normalcy, it’s something he needed to have to return to the Government Center to conduct county business.
“I’m not a big fan of being told what to do, but I was listening to my doctor,” Borrell said. “My doctor told me last week that he wanted me to wear an N-95 mask, which I did. He said if everyone else was wearing a mask, he felt I was in pretty good shape to attend board meetings.”
During his four months away from his normal life, Borrell has not been in complete seclusion. He and his wife have gone to locations that already required face coverings and, if he saw someone not wearing a mask, he would divert down a different aisle to prevent close contact.
He has no regrets about his decision because, like many of us, he was hearing the guidance being offered up by medical professionals and, when it came to those at high risk of having the potential of severe complications if they contracted the virus, it was almost as if they were describing him.
“There were just too many boxes that I checked that were identified as higher risk factors,” Borrell said. “I’m over 65, I have heart disease, I have some scar tissue in my lungs from a previous infection and I have a compromised immune system from cancer. Maybe I would survive it just fine if I contracted COVID, but I would rather take my chances with a vaccine.”
Borrell is still taking the precautions he feels necessary to protect himself and his wife from potential infection, but he admitted, it gave him a sense of normalcy to be sitting alongside his fellow commissioners during a board meeting instead of his living room. The reason was simple – he missed his friends.
“I was nice being there,” Borrell said. “All of the commissioners have really good relationships. I think it would be fair to say that we’re all friends even though we don’t agree on some of the issues that come before the board. It’s always nice to be around your friends.”