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Masks to be required in public areas of Kandiyohi County buildings

While the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the federal vaccine and mask mandate rules for businesses with more than 100 employees, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners still approved a mask requirement for county buildings. CentraCare, the local health care provider, requested the move to help slow the rapid spread of coronavirus in the region. The Kandiyohi County Health and Medical Group is also urging residents to follow COVID-19 mitigation efforts including getting vaccinated, wearing a medical grade mask in public areas and avoiding crowded settings.

Kandiyohi County County Board of Commissioners and other officials seated at meeting table Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.
Kandiyohi County County Board of Commissioners and other officials speak about mask requirements in county buildings during a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.
Mike Moore / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Employees and members of the public will be immediately required to wear a mask while in the common areas of buildings owned by Kandiyohi County . The County Board, during a special meeting Thursday, approved the mask mandate on a 3-2 vote.

"If you are coming into the building, in a hallway, walking in the restroom or walking into the dining room," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl. "When you are walking in those common areas, you need to be wearing a mask."

The board will re-evaluate the mask requirement at the March 1 board meeting. A request to limit the use of the county's public meeting rooms until at least March 1 was tabled by the board.

The approved masking requirement comes after CentraCare — which operates many local and regional health care facilities under the CentraCare and Carris Health names — requested its communities' support, through resolutions, policies and education, for such measures as masking and vaccinations.

"Because of the peak in the virus, they need action immediately to slow it down," Kleindl said.

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The letter sent to the Kandiyohi County Board and other community leaders from CentraCare was signed by 244 health care providers from CentraCare/Carris Health, Meeker Memorial Health and Swift County-Benson Health, along with physicians and advanced practice providers.

"Please look at the science. Please trust your local healthcare experts," the letter reads. "You have trusted us for years to provide accurate public health guidance to the community; please do so now also."

COVID-19 vaccinations, face masks and other resources distributed in Los Angelse
People receive boxes of KN95 face masks during a back to school event offering school supplies, COVID-19 vaccinations, face masks and other resources at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in Los Angeles, California on Aug. 7, 2021.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

Voting against the county building mask requirement were Commissioners Rollie Nissen and Duane Anderson, both of whom questioned the need for such mandated mitigation efforts.

"We have heard that song before you know, two years ago, two weeks to slow the spread," Nissen said, who also spoke about health officials now asking people to wear medical grade masks such as N95s in public. "They seem like they are moving the goal posts on us every time we turn around."

The three commissioners who voted for the mask mandate — Corky Berg, Roger Imdieke and Steve Gardner — commented on the seriousness of the coronavirus and said they agree with the appeal from the medical professionals.

"I have to support the medical staff who are fighting this battle," Imdieke said.

Jennie Lippert, director of Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services, said that as of Thursday, Kandiyohi County had 320 known active cases of COVID-19, up drastically from 71 on Jan. 4.

"That 320 is quite skewed because it doesn't take into effect those individuals who are testing at home," and perhaps have not self-reported positive cases to the Minnesota Department of Health, Lippert said.

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Area hospitals have reported low bed availability for anyone and also staffing crunches due to employees themselves being out sick.

"They are telling us they are already burdened. They are telling us there could be the potential of no hospital bed availability," even for those suffering from a heart attack or involved in an accident, Lippert said. "They are really asking us to help them mitigate this situation so it doesn't get worse."

Kandiyohi County Public Health continues to urge residents to get vaccinated. Only 52.3% of county residents are fully vaccinated. While the vaccinations do not stop an individual from contracting COVID-19, studies and data have shown those who are vaccinated are much less likely to become severely ill, require hospitalization or die.

"Vaccinations — that has been the big push from Public Health — is a way we can mitigate this COVID-19 pandemic," Lippert said.

The public is also being asked to continue following other mitigation efforts. They include good hand washing habits, wearing a mask (medical grade if possible) in crowded areas, staying home if sick, getting tested if ill or in close contact with a positive case and avoiding crowds.

"I would encourage the general public, the business community and anyone hearing this today, even if it is just for two weeks, mask up, be a little more cautious and let's see if we can at least help our health care professionals get through this crisis they are in," Gardner said. "If they are going to be in this crisis, we are all in this crisis."

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