The Wright County License Bureau is going to open on a limited basis Thursday, June 4 and will resume issuing driver’s licenses on an appointment-only basis.
Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly said the reason for the limited opening of the License Bureau is to follow the guidance put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health, as well as social distancing that has reduced the number of employees that can work at the License Bureau counter.
“There were several factors that were discussed when making this decision,” Kelly said. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were long lines at the DMV that didn’t allow for social distancing. As we’ve seen in other areas of the state that have re-opened, there has consistently been a flood of people coming to those counters. Our goal is to provide more services to the public while allowing for social distancing. We want to do whatever we can to avoid having situations that have happened in other locations from happening here.”
What makes Wright County’s License Bureau unique is its location in the Government Center. It is located in a corner of the first floor and is undersized and cramped. Because of CDC social distancing guidelines, instead of six office staff working the public counter, that number has been reduced to three. The east entrance door will be locked to restrict traffic flow coming in two directions and a guard will be posted to assure that only those with appointments will be allowed to enter the area.
The reason for this approach is that, unlike other departments that could function shorthanded or remotely, if an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the entire License Bureau would need to be isolated and the DMV would be forced to shut down. License Bureau employees are credentialed by the state and replacement employees aren’t available due to training requirements by License Bureau staff.
While it will be frustrating to those needing to renew their driver’s licenses, Wright County Board Chair Christine Husom said the safety of the public and License Bureau staff is important to the re-opening policy.
“We have to take a cautious approach,” Husom said. “If someone in the License Bureau tested positive for COVID-19, given how closely their staff works together, it would shut down the License Bureau completely for no less than two weeks. We recognize this limited opening won’t accommodate everyone in the most timely manner, but we need to do our best to keep the License Bureau open.”
The License Bureau is going to take appointments online on the county’s website starting Thursday, June 4. For the period of June 4-12, appointments will be scheduled every 20 minutes with the hope of reducing the time between appointments after that if the initial timeframe has the possibility of being reduced to accommodate more appointments. The License Bureau will be closed from noon to 1 p.m. daily to allow staff to take lunch breaks and sanitize work spaces.
The hope is that the appointment system will be temporary, but as COVID-19 cases in Wright County continue to rise, it was deemed a necessary precaution. The counter will only process driver’s license renewals. Other business such as tabs, title transfers and dealer paperwork will be conducted as it has since the public counter was closed – through mail, drop boxes and drive-thru pickup on Fridays. A walk-up window on the south side of the Government Center is under construction and is expected to open in early-to-mid-June for all non-driver’s license transactions.
There are concerns for those with expired driver’s licenses, but, as one of his Executive Orders in April, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made an accommodation for those whose licenses have expired. They will be given until Aug. 31 to renew without penalty and won’t be cited by law enforcement. It’s also noted that driver’s licenses don’t have to be renewed in your county of residence. DMVs and License Bureaus are arms of state government, so if residents want to go to another city or county to renew their licenses, it’s allowed. The Wright County License Bureau is the only office in the county that does driver’s license renewals.
Working through the backlog of license renewals will take time, but the phased-in approach will provide the best protection for the public and License Bureau staff.
“There isn’t a perfect solution,” Kelly said. “We looked at numerous options as to how we re-open the License Bureau and put mitigation strategies in place. We had to factor in that if a License Bureau employee would test positive for COVID-19, the entire operation would have to close – not just driver’s licenses, but all activity in the DMV. Our goal is to provide service to our residents to the best of our ability. This is a process that will be slower than many residents will want, but we wanted to allow residents to avoid standing in line to renew their licenses. We hope they understand this is a solution that has the safety of everyone in mind and that needs to be our overriding concern.”