Renville County communities look for bigger role in pandemic response

Olivia Mayor Sue Hilgert told the Renville County Board of Commissioners that cities in the county want to play a more active role in the county's emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Map of Minnesota, pointing out Renville County

OLIVIA — Cities in Renville County are seeking to play a more active role in the county’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have some concerns just with the fact that we’re not really being kept part of the process here, working on this issue and working on this whole pandemic with the county,” Olivia Mayor Sue Hilgert told the Renville County Board of Commissioners at its work session Tuesday. The commissioners held the discussion with members of the county’s emergency operations center team.

Mayor Hilgert said many residents are reaching out to the city when they have questions and concerns related to the pandemic. Nursing and assisted living facilities in the communities have the potential of being the hardest hit by the virus, she said.

The mayor also pointed out that state statute makes it the city’s responsibility to determine emergency management within its boundaries.

She said the cities are especially interested in playing a more active role as steps are eventually taken to reopen the economy.


Addressing the economic needs figured prominently in the discussions on Tuesday. Commissioner Greg Snow said he would like to see the county encourage Gov. Tim Walz and legislators to gently start opening things back up. Snow expressed his concerns about the financial hurt many are experiencing.

Members of the county’s emergency operations center team told the commissioners that they anticipate steps to contain the virus will need to continue for an 18-month period.

“We’re in it for a while,” said Stacey Larson, Renville County Public Health.

Larson said she is hopeful of seeing a gradual loosening of restrictions, but said people will have to remain “very prudent” about socializing for a long time.

Larson emphasized that it's important for people to wear face masks in public locations to help prevent the spread of the disease. She said she does not see many people in Renville County wearing masks in public.

The Renville County Hospital & Clinics continues to prepare for coronavirus patients, according to Nathan Blad, hospital CEO. The hospital has conducted some testing, but to date has not found a positive case of COVID-19. Testing capabilities remain limited, and the hospital must follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines in determining who can be tested, he added.

In a separate discussion with the commissioners, Sheriff Scott Hable said there are currently no inmates in the Renville County Jail infected by the COVID-19 virus. The number of inmates is down. Judges in the district have changed the “threshold” that leads to incarceration to keep inmate numbers down, the sheriff explained.

Jail staff members are screened as they arrive and work in separated groups to minimize contacts. The various shifts leave and enter by separate doors. New inmates are segregated in an area with its own ventilation system for 14 days, the sheriff told the commissioners.


The jail’s interactive television system is being utilized so that inmates do not have to be transported to the courthouse for court hearings.

The sheriff said he believes everything possible is being done to protect staff and inmates. He also pointed out that the jail is a congregate living facility, in many respects like a nursing home. “If the virus penetrates the walls of the jail, we suspect it will spread quickly and swiftly,’’ he told the commissioners.

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