From the County Manager Column from May 4, 2021
COVID-19 update: Returning to our workspaces guideline now Labor Day
We have lots of good news to share about the state of COVID-19 here in Ramsey County. First, we have passed a key milestone: More than half of our 550,000+ residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Looking at the vaccine-eligible population of 16 years and older, 65% of our residents have received at least one dose. Our Public Health department alone has administered more than 45,000 of the 280,000 doses given within Ramsey County. With about 10% of the state of Minnesota’s population living in Ramsey County, we are trending ahead of the state average on this measure. In addition, our case rates and positivity rates have both been trending lower than other metro counties.
Despite the good news, two new trends and one trend that we have been talking about since the earliest days of the pandemic are of significant concern. First, the rate of vaccinations is slowing both here and nationwide. There is indication that this is primarily due to what’s referred to as "vaccine hesitancy" – people’s reluctance to get the vaccine due to any number of reasons. Not even a week ago in a virtual community forum, our Medical Director Dr. Lynne Ogawa addressed several of the reasons behind this – leading off with the current facts around the issues related strictly to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that led to a temporary pause in its use while the CDC and FDA had concerns about side effects.
Watch the community forum with Dr. Ogawa
Whether to get the vaccine or not is a personal choice for every resident and every employee. As an employer and large local Public Health department, our job is to provide information in order for each person to make the best decision at the right time for themselves, their families and their community. If you or those in your network have questions and are seeking more information about vaccination, please visit ramseycounty.us/coronavirus where we have information in multiple languages.
Another concerning trend is that positivity rates are going up. As the governor has been "relaxing the dials" on public restrictions and young people have returned to school and are engaging in more in-person activities – even though it has been expected that the number of cases would rise – this is still something we need to watch very carefully. Frequent testing (and quarantine if positive) is one way to manage the spread and testing is easier than it has ever been with fast home-based options and well-organized test sites open every day.
Racial disparities in case rates is an issue that has faced us since the beginning of COVID-19. Black and Brown people as well as American Indian, Latinx - and here in Ramsey County especially - Asian populations are contracting and dying from COVID-19 in disproportionate numbers due to long-standing racial disparities driven by factors like poor health care access and a history of distrust due to mistreatment in our medical systems. White residents make up about 2/3 of our population but have had only 50% of our COVID-19 infections. This disparate number of cases are borne by non-white families and neighbors. In addition to ongoing community engagement through our Public Health professionals, the Trusted Messenger and Community Partner programs through RECERT have invested heavily in working directly with residents and organizations well-known in specific community circles to deliver information in the most effective ways, build trust and foster dialogue.
Returning to our workspaces following Labor Day; flexible work policy
For the past several months, we’ve been working under the guidance that those employees who are successfully working remotely should expect to do so through at least Memorial Day. Today, I’m extending that date to Labor Day (Sept. 6). Departments will continue to provide any proposed changes to service through our Service Delivery change process - and this could change guidance in specific areas between now and then - but generally if your area is successfully working remotely now you should expect to continue doing so through the summer. As this MPR story from earlier in the week says, many Twin Cities employers are also looking toward Labor Day and, like us, still have many questions about what returning to our workspaces looks like across the different jobs and roles in their organizations. We are using the time between now and then to prepare.
In order to best address return to work in our organization, several efforts to engage our employees across the county will be getting underway throughout the months ahead.
- Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll be asking you to participate in an all-employee online survey about your preferences and concerns about work culture as we move toward having more employees returning on-site in some capacity after Labor Day. Keep watching RamseyNet for more info!
- In May and June, we’ll be conducting focus groups with key internal partners. 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.
- In June and July, we’ll review and analyze 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.
Despite the immense difficulties of the past 14 months, we have learned a great deal and are looking to put those lessons to work on behalf of employees every way we can in the spirit of Talent Attraction, Retention and Promotion to remain a top public sector employer of choice in the Twin Cities. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say and to hear your ideas about our future work together at Ramsey County!