From the County Manager Column from Aug. 10, 2021

Labor Day return to workspaces target pushed back; new testing, vaccination policy in the works

At the Aug. 10 board meeting, we continued our serious discussion about the impact the highly contagious and fast-spreading COVID-19 delta variant is having on our community and our employees and workspaces. Last week I shared that following public health guidance, we were re-implementing the mask requirements that were lifted in early June when case rates and community spread were in decline. I know that feels like we’re going backward in some ways – and that many in our organization and community are frustrated - but we’ve always held true to grounding our decision-making on the advice of our medical and public health experts and we continue to do so.

Continuing in that vein, there are two significant developments coming out of today’s board meeting:

Watch the video of the board meeting

Labor Day is no longer our target for having off-site staff beginning to return to workspaces. For those staff that are currently working off-site, we are going to hit pause on the plan to begin to return to workspaces beginning after Labor Day. Next week, we’ll be having a workshop with the board about our flexible workplace policy that is in development. Coming out of that, you can expect to have a better sense of the timeline and next steps. For now - like many large employers that are closely monitoring, concerned and cautious following the spread of the delta variant - we’re opting to tap the brakes on returning to workspaces within the next few weeks. Of course, many of us have roles where we must work on-site and will continue following public health guidance on measures that reduce the spread of transmission, such as masking and staying home and getting tested if you have symptoms. Human Resources provided a presentation with useful reminders on this topic earlier this week.

We are developing a policy that will require COVID-19 testing or proof of vaccination of all employees. Employees who can provide proof of vaccination will be exempt from this testing requirement. Vaccine is our number one best defense against COVID-19 and in order to increase the number of employees who are vaccinated, we’ll also be offering a financial incentive to those who provide proof of vaccination. This will also help us to better understand the overall number of employees who have been vaccinated – information that we do not have today in a reliable form.

This outline was presented to the board following the recommendation of a cross-functional group of county experts from Public Health, Human Resources, Labor Relations, the County Attorney’s Office, Policy & Planning, Communications & Public Relations, Compliance & Ethics, Property Management and others working to balance the concerns of all employees in a fair and equitable way. I have spoken with many of you and know that feelings on this issue are very strong and varied. Like other public and private sector employers across the state and nation, we are seeking to provide safe workspaces for all while also providing options for those who do not or cannot receive the vaccine through this policy recommendation. As an organization with a number of personnel who have been required to be vaccinated as a function of their jobs for various diseases long before COVID-19, we have the benefit of this experience to help guide us also.

I know you have many questions about how and when this will all come into place. The next step will be having the board approve the policy framework within the next couple of weeks. Answers to the questions we all will have on implementation will take some time beyond that. Although we are working hard to move this forward promptly to help combat the spread of the delta variant, there are a lot of critical details that we need to get right – privacy, workability, equity, fairness and consistency to name a few – and so implementation is not imminent. We also continue working very closely with our labor partners as collective bargaining units have a key role to play in the development of implementation. I will continue to provide updates every Tuesday here on RamseyNet. And there will be more details on the nuts and bolts of how the new requirements will operate.

As we continue navigating this pandemic together, what I’m seeing and hearing by and large within and outside of our organization is a recognition that we’re all doing absolutely the best we can under circumstances that are ever changing. It’s important to remember that, as we move into this next phase, we do so presuming positive intent. At the core, we are all taking these actions to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our community members safe. Although we all come from different places and perspectives, I see each of us doing our best day after day to continue serving our community.