WILLMAR, Minn. — Weeks after he first started experiencing symptoms, Harlan Madsen, Kandiyohi County commissioner for District 5, feels he is finally on the mend.

"We are past it now. This is the best I've felt in three and a half weeks," Madsen said on Thursday, Sept. 17. "It is nice to feel good again."

For Madsen it wasn't a fever or cough that signaled the arrival of COVID-19. Instead it was crushing fatigue and shortness of breath starting the last week of August.

A dairy farmer near Lake Lillian, Madsen is used to going from one necessary chore to the other, whether it's milking dozens of cows or moving material with a skid loader. COVID-19 sucked the energy right out of him.

"I was exhausted. It wasn't just sleepy tired," Madsen said. "I felt like I was melting."

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Madsen had been ill for about five days when the Sept. 1 County Board meeting rolled around. While in the past he probably would have attended in person, Madsen made the decision to follow the health recommendations and stay home. He attended part of the meeting remotely, but signed off early.

"It says on our signs, 'If you don't feel well, stay home,'" Madsen said. "I am so grateful I did not come."

That same day Madsen decided to call Carris Health about getting tested for COVID-19, even though he felt the odds were slim that he had contracted it.

Two days later, at 7 a.m. Sept. 3, the results came back — positive.

"I was flabbergasted. I was shocked," Madsen said.

The rest of the family was tested that day. Five out of eight came back positive, but everybody was required to self-isolate.

Those who tested negative actually had to isolate longer than the family members who tested positive — 14 total days — because the assumed incubation period for COVID-19 is two weeks.

Even after interviews with the Minnesota Department of Health to trace Madsen and his family's movements, they are still not sure how the virus got into the family. The only thing Madsen is relatively sure of is that he gave it to his wife. Also infected were his son and two grandchildren. His daughter-in-law and two other grandchildren never tested positive.

The family's symptoms lasted anywhere from a few days to weeks. Julie Madsen, Madsen's wife, had horrible shoulder, neck and headaches and Madsen had body aches as well.

"I ached so bad I felt I was black and blue from head to toe," Madsen said.

Their son dealt with the same sort of fatigue as Madsen. The grandchildren felt crummy for a few days but were quicker to bounce back. No one ever had a fever or required hospitalization.

"I feel lucky," Madsen said.

It is hard to describe how it felt to have COVID-19, Madsen said. It has been one of the worst illnesses he has ever had and he is grateful he had few of the risk factors that can cause very severe illness.

"I can see why it can kill you," Madsen said. "My heart goes out to those in a compromised position."

Madsen's own journey with COVID-19 has been a roller coaster, as symptoms come and go, though Madsen believes he has finally turned a corner. While he said he was never scared of the disease, he certainly knows it isn't something to ignore and hopes his experience will show that to others.

"It sucked for a couple of days," Madsen said. "I have a healthy respect for it. If I can convey to anybody anything, it would be to be respectful of it, practice your social distancing, your sanitizing, be respectful of those things. And look to protecting others."