Clay County commissioner pleads for precautions after losing loved one to virus

"You have a better chance of recovering economically than you do if you died," an emotional Commissioner Kevin Campbell said in the county board's Tuesday meeting.

Kevin Campbell and Shelly Swenson
Kevin Campbell and Shelly Swenson. Special to The Forum.

MOORHEAD — A discussion about COVID-19 turned personal during a meeting of the Clay County Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Kathy McKay, the county's public health administrator, was giving the board an update on the county's COVID-19 situation when several commissioners spoke up to underscore the serious nature of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a video of Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Kevin Campbell clearly wrestles with his emotions as he talks about statistics that indicate young adults in their early 20s appear to be the age group most prone to spreading COVID-19 in Clay County.


Campbell also becomes visibly upset when he shares the story of someone he knows who was directed to report for work even though the person indicated to their employer they had symptoms of COVID-19.

Campbell said the situation he described happened in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but not in Clay County.

He said he knows people have suffered economically from the pandemic, but stressed: "You have a better chance of recovering economically than you do if you died."

Clay County Covid graphic

Fellow Commissioner Jenny Mongeau said the coronavirus had touched the lives of several commissioners, including herself, adding that she has been in quarantine twice due to having been in close contact with people who tested positive for the virus.

"It's unfair. It takes no prisoners," Mongeau said of the virus, adding that Campbell was the only person on the commission "who has lost somebody very close to his heart" because of COVID-19.

In a phone interview following the meeting, Campbell said his girlfriend, Shelly Swenson, recently died from COVID-19 after a battle with the virus that lasted more than a month.


Swenson's ordeal, he said, began with the appearance of symptoms on Sept. 23.

"She came home and she started to have a cough," Campbell said.

He said Swenson's symptoms eventually worsened and she went to a local hospital where she was checked out and then sent home to recover.

However, Swenson soon took a turn for the worse, and Campbell said she returned to the hospital and was admitted.

He said Swenson's condition continued to deteriorate. She was put on a ventilator and later on a machine that took over the functions normally handled by the heart and lungs.

In early October, Swenson was flown by air ambulance to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, but she continued to decline, according to Campbell, who said his only form of contact with Swenson during her hospitalization was via an online video program.


Campbell said that on the morning of Oct. 30 he and three of Swenson's children — a fourth child lives outside of the region and couldn't be there — were allowed to enter her hospital room two at a time to say their goodbyes.

"We watched her take her last breath and I had my hand over her heart," Campbell said, adding that Swenson, who was 56, had mild emphysema, but otherwise was healthy before she became ill with COVID-19.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, McKay said the virus can hit anyone at any time and she said even when people take precautions there's no guarantee COVID-19 will be prevented.

She said wearing masks and social distancing remain the best safety measures people have until a vaccine arrives.

Mongeau stressed that taking precautions is not about government control but instead it's about doing what's best for our neighbors.

"The more you can do personally to limit your exposure just helps everybody," she said.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, WDAY's Kevin Wallevand will talk with Campbell and one of his girlfriend's children about the traumatic experience that took Shelly Swenson.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

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