County Manager Column from May 19, 2020

This column was originally published as a "From the County Manager" column on our employee intranet.

What the 'Stay at Home' to 'Stay Safe' transition means for us

This week we’ll mark 70 days since our board of commissioners declared a local state of emergency for Ramsey County. Yesterday, the stay-at-home order that Governor Walz had extended several times over these past many weeks for all of Minnesota lapsed and was replaced by a new order. Many types of stores and businesses have now been able to resume some operations with implementation of public health practices, including social distancing guidelines. Bars, salons and other types of businesses are employing safety plans that will allow them to open on June 1. Groups of 10 or fewer people can now assemble following social distancing and other public health guidelines. Large gatherings and events are still not possible.

On a statewide level, the process which Governor Walz describes as "safely adjusting the dials" through stay-at-home has worked to buy all of us time to save lives and livelihoods by increasing hospital capacity with more ventilators and ICU beds. With a peak of COVID-19 cases now projected for the first half of July, it is certainly possible that the dials could be adjusted again – in either direction.

The new “Stay Safe” guidance from the state does not fundamentally change our response to COVID-19 at Ramsey County. We have been leading the way as an emergency responder, a service provider and an employer since before the governor’s first executive order even went into effect. We will stay the course we have been on since the first days – a benefit we have because of our early and prompt response to safely continue emergency operations and modify service delivery following public health guidance. Following that, we will continue using the Service Delivery Design process from week to week to gradually modify services where it makes sense to do so in a way that’s safe. This approach is our way of dialing up or back in response to changing health conditions and community needs, and we will continue to do it in a transparent way that all can read about and see through our website.

For example, this week I expect that we will again begin renting shelters and pavilions in our parks – albeit with restrictions that limit group sizes to permit social distancing in these spaces. This is a valuable and popular service to resume for well-being and community-building as well as a source of revenue for us. On the other hand, we simply don’t have the same ability to open our swimming beaches safely yet and will continue to evaluate how, when and if we can do so as we learn more from the experience of others who have been more aggressive in this particular space. Although both these examples are from our Parks & Recreation department, we will continue making these operational evaluations and adjustments every week for all service areas informed by any changing guidance at the state level and our own public and occupational health experts. Mental health, child protection, probation, workforce and computer access are some of the many other areas in which we continue to evaluate our current approaches and develop opportunities to ensure our service delivery options match our commitment to residents first.

Remote working is going well for many across the county that have been asked to transition from primarily on site to a socially distant work environment. As I wrote last week, Information Services reports that 2,500 of our employees are working well remotely. I am often asked about when we’ll be "returning to ‘normal." Despite many uncertainties and unknowns, here is one I can provide:

If working off-site is going well for your area now, you can anticipate continuing to do so until at least Labor Day (Sept. 7).  As described above, this determination of “going well” will be evaluated through a variety of factors, starting with our ability to effectively deliver services to residents that is evaluated every other week through our Service Delivery documentation. This determination will also incorporate supervisor and employee experiences, workloads and public health guidance that tells us to keep socially distant whenever possible. I make this declaration to all of you so that you have a little more clarity in your life during uncertain times.

If working at home for this extended time is presenting a struggle for you, please visit “For employees” at ramseycounty.us/coronavirus to review those resources and/or discuss your situation with your supervisor. Work areas in several buildings do and will have options for safely returning on a limited basis if you need a break in a new environment. We want to make sure that we’re providing as much support and flexibility as we can during this trying time.

We recognize that this has been a very challenging situation for everyone within our organization and our broader community – please continue to take care of yourself and reach out to colleagues. In case you missed it, our Senior Clinical Psychologist Dr. Thomas Nguyen shared some guidance about our mental health in a video message posted last Friday.

Your dedication and patience has been recognized and appreciated over these past 10 weeks! Let’s keep at it.