Guest Opinion: We have to temporarily give up some personal freedom to defeat COVID-19

A symptom-based health policy will fail and our economy can’t fully open without the infection rates dropping.

Adam Rees

After spending 32 years in healthcare leadership I found myself unemployed this spring due to the resulting economic impact from COVID-19 on my employer. We’ve also had family and friends impacted by this virus, including death, and many more experiencing financial challenges with the downturn of the economy.

Like you, I read the health alerts from many reputable sources and try hard to practice the recommended safety measures but remain troubled that our state and country is failing at containing this virus. The threat to us all is huge for two equally important reasons, without a strong economy and a healthy people, we will collectively decline.

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I believe our current approach to mitigating the virus is flawed. First, we test and treat based on symptoms. But up to half the infected people have no symptoms. Second, we reduce risk by mandating masks and placing significant limitations on businesses. While this does slow the spread, it is not enough to end this terrible pandemic. The fact is, our infection rates are increasing along with the death toll. Third, we’ve placed restrictions on travel and social gatherings that diminish quality of life. The bottom line is our country is experiencing physical, emotional and economic harm that will take years to recover if we continue with just our present actions.

The good news is that the world’s scientists and we as individuals are learning a lot about this novel coronavirus. In my opinion, the solution is repeated mass testing and mandatory isolation for those positive along with renewed masking efforts in public spaces. While this approach may seem extreme, it would take only a few months to curtail the virus and open the economy and get back to normal social interactions with our friends and loved ones.

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I came to this conclusion based on a recent article in the Economist magazine (Nicholas Christakis on fighting COVID-19 by truly understanding the virus) and a personal experience. My wife and I planned to visit my 80-year-old stepmother in October and had a COVID-19 testing at her request. While both of us were symptom free, one tested positive. This shocked us as neither of us had any known exposure and didn’t have symptoms. In general, according to the guidelines, only individuals with symptoms or known exposure are tested. Without these test results, we would not have followed the isolation and quarantine guidelines and likely would have infected people.


Since up to half those testing positive have no symptoms, a symptom-based health policy will fail and our economy can’t fully open without the infection rates dropping. Our social, mental and spiritual health will also continue to decline. Humans need face to face interactions to thrive.

While my recommendation may appear drastic, it is worth us collectively giving up some personal freedom for a brief period to bring back real health and prosperity to our community and great nation.

Adam Rees is the former president of Essentia Health’s central market in Brainerd.
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