Others Opinion: COVID-19 — Use local data to adjust restrictions

Published 6:30 am Saturday, August 1, 2020

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The Free Press

As the COVID-19 exhibits its predicted ebbs and flows in states around the country, balancing economic health and public health will require we make economic decisions based on the increasingly specific health data that is available.

We should use the data to move away from one-size-fits-all mandates.

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The number of tests and therefore the rate of positive tests just became available for all counties in Minnesota about a month ago. The numbers were only tabulated on a statewide basis before that, so individual county re-opening policies could not be based on the local data.

But now counties and local jurisdictions can assess the rate of infection in the local population as well as the rate of spread and the amount of so-called “community spread.”

Health department guidelines call for infection rates below 5 percent and spread of the virus by “unknown” community sources less than 30 percent as flashpoints for decisions on opening or closing up the economy.

So we can start looking at those numbers on a local basis and make local decisions. That will be key to slowly opening up the economy in low risk areas. In fact, that kind of local control may play out with the re-opening of schools this fall. It makes sense.

There is reasonable worry in small towns and rural areas that another shutting down of cafes and bars will be a crushing blow and many will not survive. These rural areas often do not have near the cases or positive case rates of urban areas or even regional centers like Mankato. Blue Earth County had 82 new cases last week, though that continues a downward trend of four weeks. But Faribault County had just 4 new cases.

There will be a wide disparity in urban and rural cases, so the reopening policies must follow those differences, while keeping in mind the science of health risk that can now be measured more precisely by county.