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As Kandiyohi County COVID-19 cases reach 200, officials ask public to remain vigilant

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners received its biweekly COVID-19 update on the same day positive cases in the county rose to 200. The message to the public continues to be the importance of following the governor's stay-at-home order, social distancing and hand washing.

A sign posted on the front entrance warns visitors that the Kandiyohi County Office Building is closed to the public. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — On Tuesday Kandiyohi County passed a milestone no one is celebrating.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the county now has 200 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, including one death. The announcement came as Jennie Lippert, Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services director, was giving the County Board of Commissioners an update on the situation in the county.

"We were trending very low for a long time, then on April 25 we saw a spike," said Lippert.

The highest daily total, so far, came May 1, when 44 positive cases were confirmed. Daily the county is adding an average of 15 to 20 cases to its total.

"As more people are tested, the more positive individuals we will see in our community," Lippert said.


While the spike in cases within the county coincided with the discovery of the virus among Jennie-O Turkey Store employees in Willmar, Lippert was adamant that is not the main cause of the county's case growth.

"The cases we are seeing in our county are not just Jennie-O employees," Lippert said. "The virus is spreading throughout our community and it is affecting many other people who have no associations with Jennie-O."

Kandiyohi County Public Health is working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, Carris Health and other businesses and organizations during the pandemic, offering guidance and assistance when needed.

Kandiyohi County Emergency Management continues to do its part as well. Kim Lindahl, emergency management director, said her department also remains in contact with many different entities including the YMCA and the Kandiyohi County Courthouse. Planning is happening about how facilities will operate once they reopen to the public.

Emergency management is also talking with county churches. According to Lindahl, she has received no comments or requests to allow churches to reopen.

"Churches don't plan on opening until the end of May," Lindahl said. "Churches are very concerned about the spread of the virus and will be taking their time and looking for guidance from us."

There has been some interest in having services in parking lots, where parishioners remain in their vehicles, but Lindahl said there are concerns about keeping people in those vehicles as the weather warms up.

Commissioner Steve Ahmann did not agree with that assessment and felt churches should be able to hold parking lot services, especially since members of the public are still able to visit big retail stores which have remained open as essential businesses.


"I am just wondering if common sense is not being allowed to be part of the decision-making in this case. I don't agree with it, though social distancing is important," Ahmann said.

Despite Ahmann's wishes to allow churches that freedom, board chairman Commissioner Harlan Madsen refused to even discuss the issue.

"The answer to that is no. We cannot do any approval or disapproval. That is strictly a governor order," Madsen said. "We are going to operate under whatever the governor's executive order and declaration are. That is not a County Board decision, end of story."

The current governor's order is set to expire May 18. To get ready for a possible return to some normalcy, Kandiyohi County is preparing a plan on how it will reopen its buildings to the public and bring its employees back to work. The plan has three phases and will eventually bring the county back to full operations.

"Everybody wants to get back to work," County Administrator Larry Kleindl said.

The first phase of the reopening will begin May 19, or whenever the governor's stay-at-home order is allowed to expire. The county probably will not be up to full speed until mid-June at the earliest, depending on where the county stands with virus cases.

"All of this is contingent on what happens in the next two weeks," Madsen said.

The County Board on Tuesday approved waiving all cancellation fees for those wanting to cancel their county park camping reservations. While there is still some hope camping will be allowed in the parks at some time this summer, the commissioners did not want to penalize anyone who wanted to cancel. Reservations will be refunded 100 percent, with no fees or penalties.


"It just makes good business sense," Ahmann said.

If the county is going to succeed in trying to slow the spread of the virus, residents will need to do their part as well.

"With the recent increase of widespread confirmed COVID-19 cases in our community, it is critical that the residents of Kandiyohi County continue to stay home, practice social distancing and continue good hand washing," Lippert said.

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A drop box is available for county residents to submit their documents while the Kandiyohi County Office Building in Willmar is closed to the public. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

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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