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Kandiyohi County continues to see COVID-19 cases rise as vaccinations slow to a trickle

Kandiyohi County Administration and Public Health continue to watch COVID-19 cases in the county closely, to see if the county should implement more restrictions to slow the spread.

090821.N.WCT.KandiyohiCoCOVIDUpdate
Less than half of the total population of Kandiyohi County has started the COVID-19 vaccination series. County administration, public heath and the county board are urging all those who are eligible who haven't been vaccinated to seek the shots out. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The continued spread of COVID-19 in Kandiyohi County is a rising concern for County Administrator Larry Kleindl and Health and Human Services director Jennie Lippert. The two gave a situational update to the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday and there isn't a whole lot of good news.

"We are continuing to see increases," Lippert said.

As of Friday, Sept. 3, Kandiyohi County had 150 active cases of COVID-19. In the week covering Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, the county had 127 new cases and one new death. That brings the pandemic total to 7,228 cases and 88 deaths.

Lippert expects the next few weeks to be very telling regarding the direction the coronavirus pandemic will go, at least for the short term. With the opening of school and fall events, there is a chance cases will rise even more.

"We are working hard with the schools, offering any guidance we can," Lippert said.

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Another major concern is the low rate of vaccinations in the county. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 57% of the county's eligible population of 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine . Only 47% of the total population of the county has at least started the vaccine series.

Public Health continues to offer COVID-19 vaccinations at the county Health and Human Services building. However, the highest number that nurses have seen at a county clinic was seven individuals. Area health care providers and pharmacies also offer shots.

"Our top priority is still vaccinating those who are not vaccinated," Lippert said.

For Kleindl, the rise in cases and lack of vaccinations is causing havoc from a business standpoint. He is still dealing with a wave of employees out sick, either because they themselves are infected with COVID-19 or they are in quarantine because they are a close contact. Because the county doesn't have a work-from-home policy, those who are of the office due to illness must take time off. This then requires the remaining staff in the office to pick up the extra work at a time when many departments are already very busy and short-staffed.

"It has created a real challenge for us," Kleindl said.

While Kleindl has not reached the point of requesting a vaccine mandate for county staff, he is wondering if more health restrictions need to be in place, such as a mask mandate and reducing the numbers of people allowed in county facilities.

Staff are being asked to wear a mask when working face-to-face with members of the public and those staff members who are not vaccinated are mandated to wear masks in the building. Whether additional restrictions are put in place will depend on case levels over the next few weeks.

"These are things we have to start looking at, as a business plan," Kleindl said. "How do we operate?"

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Kleindl is also asking county staff to act responsibly in their off time. While the county can't control what a person does when not working, those actions can have an impact on the workplace if that employee brings COVID-19 back with them.

"Take precautions. Don't do anything silly, even on your private time," Kleindl said. "Do the right thing. It not only affects you, it affects the people we serve and your co-workers."

The main message from the county is for people to get their vaccinations to help slow the spread and reduce the severity of the disease.

"We are in a crisis and people don't realize it. This is very serious and we don't need to be here," said Commissioner Corky Berg. "If we were all vaccinated, we wouldn't be having this issue of one more death or the loss to the economy because people are out sick."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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