It is disheartening to watch our state and nation being ripped apart by people who are tired of being quarantined and others who are scared (for good reason) of the COVID-19 virus.

I was recently corresponding with a schoolmate who is well versed in health care policy, who also was very upset about the cancellation of his daughter’s high school graduation. It got me to thinking.

When we have a tornado, we don’t tell everyone to go into their basements — only those in the line of the storm. (Of course, putting everyone into basements would be the safest course of action, but unrealistic.) Yet that is what we have been doing with this virus.

What if we developed a rating system for our state, based on counties and their numbers of COVID-19 cases?

Say, for example, you are in a county with between one and five confirmed cases of the virus. Your county’s status would be open — stay vigilant, but businesses can operate, life can return to some normalcy. If people choose to wear a mask they can; if not, it is acceptable.

If your county were to have six to 20 cases, you would be on yellow alert. Businesses could still be open, but with precautions. Masks would be suggested for wearing in public places; social distancing would be followed. Gatherings would be limited to less than 10 people unless everyone were tested.

If your county had between 21 and 50 cases you would be orange. Limited movement suggested, restaurants open for takeout only, elderly (over 65) suggested to quarantine themselves and only go out for necessities. Stores in an orange county should have specialty hours for elderly and immunocompromised individuals (early when the stores are the cleanest).

Finally, any county with more than 50 cases would be red, a hot zone. Hunker down, watch movies and stay put! Hypervigilant testing — open to more than those who are symptomatic.

The threshold numbers I’ve chosen are just for illustration. The real categories would be set by the governor and his task force. We could have weekly updates on case counts and changes in county statuses could be announced at that time.

We have been holding hostage counties with very little COVID-19. Frankly, they are tired. There are more than 25 Minnesota counties with fewer than 5 cases, yet we are allowing their small businesses to fail and stealing precious memories from people with very limited risk of disease spread. What we should want and expect is for people to be at the ready to quarantine when necessary — but to carry on with normalcy until it becomes necessary. Our state could be a leader in this change and become a beacon of hope for the rest of the country.

A suggestion for group gatherings: graduations, weddings, birthday parties. What if we make testing available for the graduates and immediate family members with a 24-hour turnaround — and those testing negative would be welcome to participate? Perhaps if antibody tests were available they wouldn’t need the actual COVID-19 test for everyone. This would require a high testing capacity.

I know keeping everyone safe is our goal. But I think we also need to be realistic (that’s what we nurses are known to be — realistic). We need to mitigate risk by testing and by grading the risk across the state. Some of us are in low-impact areas — lots of wide-open spaces and few infections. Currently we are treating everyone as if they live in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

I think compliance with recommendations would go up if we were recognizing that not everyone is in the same high-risk areas. You might even have people avoiding the areas of greatest risk if they knew it was a “red” zone.

Finally, I know our senior care facilities are at greatest risk. They should remain vigilant with regard to keeping the virus out of their facilities. But this can only be accomplished if we test staff. Many staff work at more than one facility (because it is difficult to live on a certified nursing assistant’s salary — a topic for another opinion piece!). Testing is the only means available to proactively get ahead of the spread of this virus.

I ask our government leaders to consider these approaches. Constituents are restless. We are a state composed of many different communities — please recognize that reduction in COVID-19 cases is only one of the needs of the people in this state.

We need businesses to thrive, paychecks to feed families, and we need to celebrate milestones when we are able. We must prioritize and mitigate risk and adjust to changing circumstances. This is an evolving process — not everyone should be living as if they are in the “hot zone.”

 

MerriLea Kyllo, of Lester Prairie, Minn., is a registered nurse.