Renville County looks to publish list of businesses not complying with COVID-19 rules

The Renville County Public Health Department is looking to publish a list of businesses which continue to violate COVID-19 protocols. The department is concerned about businesses that fail to comply despite repeated education efforts.

An unidentified clerk wears a mask and gloves in a floral retail setting to protest business employees and customers. Stock photo /

OLIVIA — Renville County’s Public Health Department is looking to publish the names of businesses that continue to be in violation of COVID-19 requirements.

Despite repeated educational efforts, there remain businesses that do not follow the requirements, according to Jill Bruns, Renville County Public Health director, and Dave Distad, environmental health specialist in the department.

“Education is only doing so much,” Distad told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. He said he has struggled to get some businesses to understand the need to comply. “I just don’t know where to go with it right now.”

Bruns and Distad said they have the option of ordering re-inspections when they receive continued complaints about violations at businesses. A re-inspection brings with it a $365 fee. Distad said he does not want to cause more economic harm to businesses that are already hit hard by the pandemic.

Distad is responsible for enforcement of COVID-19 requirements for licensed food, beverage and lodging businesses. The department is not responsible for other retail establishments, such as hardware stores.


He and Bruns said they estimate there are about one dozen establishments that could be placed on the list if they continue to violate the requirements. The violations include placing seats too close to one another, employees not wearing masks, and employees not being kept away from work when they should be quarantined.

Distad told the commissioners that there are many businesses that are working “very, very hard” to follow the rules. “And then those, for lack of a better term, (who) care about putting bucks in the seat.”

Commissioner Doug Erickson said he is concerned about having uniform enforcement of the rules, as well as the publishing of offenders. He pointed out that the Public Health Department does not inspect all businesses.

The commissioners said they see a range of compliance. Erickson pointed to the hardware store in Bird Island, where he said the owner is very diligent about making sure customers are masked.

Commissioner Randy Kramer said he’s also been to a variety of businesses throughout the county where mask wearing is not followed.

Kramer said the county has an obligation to protect the health of the public. Publishing a list of offenders is a way of letting people make their own decisions on the risk they want to take. He expressed concerns about a heavy-handed approach of economic penalties and the potential harm to businesses.

Kramer said the Minnesota Department of Health keeps a public list of violators, and the county could do the same. It could send the list to local radio stations and newspapers and place it on social media.

Commissioner Greg Snow also suggested publishing reports on businesses that are complying with the rules as a way to encourage more to do so.


Distad said he generally inspects businesses only during daytime hours, but follows up on reports of violations during nighttime hours as well.

Concerns over growing case numbers

The concern about violations comes as the county’s public health agency is working to address a growing number of positive cases in the county. Bruns told the commissioners that as of the start of the day Tuesday, there were 138 active, positive COVID-19 cases in the county within the past two weeks. Of the 138 cases, 86 of the individuals had not yet been contacted by the Minnesota Department of Health for information on how they need to quarantine and isolate.

The county’s caseload has grown to 94.4 per 10,000, she said.

In response to the situation, Bruns said her department has laid out a plan to begin making telephone contact with those recently confirmed as being infected by COVID-19. The brief phone calls will be conducted to reach out to the individuals to learn if they need any help, and to inform them of the need to isolate.

She said the Department of Health told her it is adding contact tracers and looking at ways to reduce the amount of time spent with individuals on the phone to catch up with the number of new cases needing to be reached.

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