With Minnesota’s stay at home order extended to Monday, May 18, Wright County is looking at different options moving forward to the time when business at county facilities will return to some sense of normality.
County Administrator Lee Kelly explained that the process of reopening offices to the general public is going to take time, but the planning for that day coming has been underway for the last two weeks.
“On April 23, the governor had a press conference and started talking about the phased approach of reopening businesses in Minnesota,” Kelly said. “To that end, I built a phased approach for Wright County as we move forward here – in that same line building off the guidance provided by the governor and others around Executive Order 20-40.”
The county plan will look to provide services by appointment in certain areas, because not all county services the county can be easily accessible by others means – mail, drop box or electronically.
Kelly said the plan up to May 18 will remain largely unchanged with a few minor exceptions.
“Public counters will remain closed to the public,” Kelly said. “We do service by appointment for services we can’t complete via other methods or are very difficult to complete online due to not having an electronic solution or it is complex to do and we don’t have a barrier or mitigation factor put in place at this time. We’ll continue to do electronic processing of documents and applications and delivering services via the virtual methods.”
County staff has had a number of discussions dealing with a plan for the opening of public counters and how to handle the flow of traffic in county facilities if the social distancing protocol remains in place.
Those plans include not only how to deal with the public, but how to conduct staff meetings while using best safety practices after the stay at home restrictions are loosened.
“There are things we’ve done internally in preparation for the future of a full opening,” Kelly said. “We’re setting up our conference rooms and other meetings to allow social distancing and promote that happening. We’re building various physical barriers at our counters. We’ve built different structures in some of our lobbies in order to allow the public to do transactions with our staff, but still providing a barrier to keep both the public and our employees safe. We’re going to continue internally encouraging employees that are able to work remotely to continue to maximize that while still meeting the critical needs we have.”
As with many of the changes all of us have experienced, the critical aspect of making any plan for the future is the potential that it will have to change. The current stay at home order in Minnesota has been extended twice and there is no guarantee that when midnight strikes on the morning of May 18 that the order won’t be extended again or a new limited restriction will be put in place.
With more questions than answers, devising a plan that will be all-encompassing is difficult to accomplish, so Kelly is urging department heads to keep their options open and following the recommendations from the health experts.
“As things move forward, I’d like us to keep flexible and stay aware of the guidance that comes out from many sources – certainly from the Minnesota Department of Health, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as the governor,” Kelly said. “As you know, this is a fluid situation. We’re continuing to monitor it and we’ll move forward in our operations with that.”
Kelly said that the next two weeks can serve as a test run for individual departments at all county facilities to get their own game plans in place as to what precautions can be taken to best protect the public and county employees as the push to re-open businesses continues to gain momentum.
These plans need to be subject to change because no policy is viewed as universal and decisions will be made based upon what is happening at that moment – not two weeks from now or two weeks ago.
It’s a difficult process, but one that needs to take place as the COVID-19 pandemic moves into its next stages.
“Things continue to evolve and that will give us time to continue working on the additional strategies we’re working on,” Kelly said. “In a perfect world, we would like operations to go back to the way things were – I’ll put that in quotes. Maybe we’ll call it a new normal as soon as we can, but certainly we want to do our part to protect employees and the public that use our services.”