Over the last few days, there have been numerous indications that, slowly but surely, businesses around Minnesota are going to be allowed to reopen in one form or another. The same goes for county government facilities, which are preparing for a phased reopening process while social distancing protocol remains in place.
Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly said there are efforts on several fronts to get the Government Center and other county facilities prepared to open to the public as some level.
“There is still a lot going on for what we do moving forward,” Kelly said. “We are working on modifications to the facilities that are probably not all going to be ready until June. I’ve been aware that jury trials on the court’s side aren’t going to be returning until after June 1 as well.”
Kelly explained that most of the public counters have had sneeze guards installed. The county has purchased queueing stanchions (the crowd barriers seen at airport waiting lines) to change the traffic flow at the license bureau as well as outside queueing in the parking lot due to the anticipated numbers of people that will be coming to the Government Center license bureau to renew driver’s licenses. A proposed drive-thru drop box located in the east alley alongside the Government Center is being planned, but discussion remains on traffic flow because the alley is routed for one-way traffic. Floor graphics set up six feet apart are going to be installed. The main topic of discussion currently is the potential for a public facing window on the east side of the Government Center.
Kelly said the conventional wisdom is that, while Gov. Tim Walz has allowed some businesses to open, most local governments are projecting that government facilities will likely be closed through the end of May.
“I’m anticipating, as this continues to develop on a daily basis, that we will be discussing this at some point during our (county board) workshop next week because we will need to make some determinations at that time if we’re going to be extending (the closures) past the 18th,” Kelly said. “Many of the jurisdictions I’ve spoken with are already planning for that to be the case. Many are doing a phased approach such as what we are doing with putting (sneeze) guards in place. We’re working on some of those facility-related things we’ve got going. In addition, the policies are the next challenge as we keep going.”
One of the problems with the timing of Gov. Walz’s stay at home order and the two subsequent extensions is that they have been scheduled to expire at midnight on Monday mornings. With most county board meetings throughout the state scheduled for Tuesdays, it makes for awkward timing to react to a decision at the state level.
“In hindsight, I wish we would have extended to the 19th so we could’ve had a board meeting and not have to schedule a special one,” Kelly said. “It does coincide with what the governor has got as far as a timeline, but we may need to make a recommendation coming out of the workshop.”
The county’s timetable for closures has been tied to the guidance set forth by the governor. Commissioner Darek Vetsch said that even if the county would unilaterally add a day or two to its own closure extension, it still doesn’t allow adequate time to be prepared for a reopening – whether in part or in full.
“Even if we would extend it to the 19th or the 20th right now, it still gives us a really short time if we have a board meeting and have to modify or extend it,” Vetsch said. “That’s a reason why we probably would be better off having a meeting at the end of next week when we (find out) what the governor does. We are kind of bound to those decisions.”
Board Chair Chris Husom suggested Friday, May 15 to hold a special board meeting. The board unanimously approved setting a special board meeting for 10 a.m. May 15 to make a determination how to move forward with the guidance that will be available at that time.