From the County Manager Column from June 8, 2021

Board votes to ease face coverings policy; return to workspaces target remains Labor Day

Last week, following actions by Mayors Frey and Carter to lift mask mandates in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, I shared that our board of commissioners would be reviewing our face coverings policy today. At their meeting this morning, the board did vote to approve easing requirements for face coverings at most Ramsey County facilities.

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In short, the revised policy makes face coverings optional for staff working at most county facilities and for our visitors. The policy also substitutes the face coverings requirement with recommended guidance for those people who are not vaccinated to continue to wear a mask to protect themselves and others as best as possible. Face coverings will still be required in certain facilities for both employees and residents to comply with specific federal requirements that remain in effect. As a sign of progress, it’s not lost on us that the board passed this new policy at their first in-person meeting in well over a year.

I want to acknowledge that this moment elicits different feelings across our organization, and it is with that in mind that I ask you to seek to find ways to make those around you comfortable whenever possible. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask or need to do so to protect yourself, please do so. If you are vaccinated and feel comfortable taking your mask off, that is fine too. Please make responsible decisions aligned with the guidelines and trust that your colleagues and the residents of our community will do the same. I wish we had a magic way to mitigate all risk, fear and uncomfortability. We don’t. Yet I believe that a collective trust, grounded in a flexible policy that informs personal decision-making, will see us through in the best way possible.

We can continue feeling very good about our efforts and progress in vaccinating our residents. Last week, we kicked off a major investment to turbocharge education and engagement with those areas of the county where vaccinations rates are trailing others. An extensive, highly targeted multi-lingual advertising campaign is now underway utilizing everything from billboards and transit stops to community radio and community websites and social media. Also, last week we began onboarding and training COVID-19 Trusted Cultural Community Messengers and Connectors  – trusted individuals and organizations from the Black, Asian, Latino/a, American Indian, African Born and other underrepresented communities who will help us to connect with people more directly and work to overcome barriers to vaccination. This past weekend, we added a new vaccination site at Arlington Hills Community Center with Pfizer vaccine which is approved for those aged 12 and up. Early reports are that we were able to serve several diverse families nearby the site who chose to come for all their shots at once – a hopeful sign for overcoming a dynamic that has been identified as a barrier.  

Return to workspaces target – still Labor Day

Today’s change in face coverings policy does not change the guidance for those who are currently successfully working offsite. We’re still looking at Labor Day as the marker for returning to in-person workspaces at county facilities. We can all expect a new model of work though – and a model shaped by your feedback. Here’s a reminder of next steps on developing our Flexible Workplace Policy that will guide the next phase of how we conduct our work at Ramsey County into the future:

  • More than 1,500 employees have completed the Returning to our Workspaces survey which we launched on May 25. This is a VERY impressive number and thanks to everyone who has completed it already. If who haven’t had a chance yet to take it yet, I would really hope you can take a few minutes to share your valuable feedback! The survey will remain open through next Friday, June 18.

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  • Focus groups are also underway – ultimately, we expect to connect directly with more than 100 frontline staff, labor partners, those areas which have teleworked in the past and employee resource groups.
  • Later in June and July, we’ll be reviewing and analyzing the survey and focus group/conversation data.
  • In August, we’ll come forward with recommendations and a plan for specific departments and work areas based on the information gathered.

All around there are hopeful signs as we continue to recover from the pandemic, but we must remain vigilant as we approach the finish line and keep doing all we can to support all of our residents and employees. Some 15 months now since the beginning days of the pandemic here in Ramsey County, each of us continues having a different experience. As Chair Carter reminds us each week when she asks for a moment of silence at board meetings, many in our community (and beyond) have lost their lives and the families and communities of many more have been profoundly and permanently affected.

One thing that I think it’s fair to say is common is that this has been a once-in-a-lifetime challenge for all of us. It feels like I say this every week, but I truly mean it when I say your hard work, sacrifice and dedication to our community and organization has made a world of difference in how we’ve been able to manage this challenge here in Ramsey County. Thank you so much from me and from the thousands of people I have heard from throughout these many months who have been very grateful for your work and have looked to us and the lessons we have learned together.