From the County Manager Column from July 27, 2021

State of local emergency to end on Tuesday, Aug. 3, COVID-19 vigilance to continue

11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3 is scheduled to mark the end of our countywide state of local emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming some 500 days after our board of commissioners declared the state of local emergency on March 14, 2020, we are now taking a step back on our COVID-19 response structure, recognizing that a Public Health coordinated response is now well situated to manage the ongoing challenges around us as they relate to vaccines, viral spread, community engagement and impacts to residents and employees.

Practically speaking, for most employees this will not change anything day-to-day. That’s because the board will be asked to vote to extend several actions that have been authorized under the emergency declaration – such as maintaining dozens of contract positions through next April to staff our expansion of facilities and programs for those experiencing homelessness. Also, contracts executed during the emergency period will remain in effect and the work involved in programs and initiatives that were created for our countywide COVID-19 response – such as the Racial Equity and Community Engagement Response Team (RECERT) will also continue, but in different forms. In simple terms, all of the work these past 18 months allowed us to build a strong and flexible foundation from which our organization can continue to combat COVID-19, without the need for an emergency declaration in place to do so.

Although the impact of this change is largely administrative, it’s also symbolic as we mark the effect the pandemic has had on communities and organizations worldwide - as Chair Carter frequently asks us to consider during a moment of remembrance and reflection at board meetings. With many COVID-19 questions and issues still facing our organization and community, the board will continue to discuss the pandemic at its weekly meeting until future notice.

Watch video of the board meeting

Let me be clear – in no way does this mean that as of next week we consider that COVID-19 is at all “over.” Public Health was the first county department to activate its Incident Command System on March 6 of last year and this structure will remain active as we continue to focus on responding to COVID-19 with a public health focus through vaccinations, testing, education and outreach - and closely monitor developments around variants.

Incident Command Structures are devised to scale up or down as necessary. Even as we have had several weeks of very encouraging news around case rates and are approaching vaccination of three-quarters of our 12+ population, we remain ready to expand if needed by retaining the flexibility provided in an Incident Command System. Despite largely positive trends here in Ramsey County, we are acutely aware of the national picture of rising infections and hospitalizations in those counties with lower vaccination rates. We are monitoring those developments very closely as we continue to focus our efforts on targeting outreach to those ZIP codes and populations in Ramsey County where vaccination rates are lower than our average.  

Neither does the lifting of the countywide state of local emergency change our timeline for those employees who have been successfully working off-site beginning to return to workspaces after Labor Day. More than 2,000 employees provided responses to our survey – an incredible number. Thanks to all who responded and thanks for your patience as we analyze the responses and use them – along with focus groups and other meetings - to inform how we can best return to our workspaces. More guidance will be coming soon on this here on RamseyNet.  

Operating under an Incident Command System has necessarily and appropriately provided us with the administrative flexibility to quickly and aptly contract, deploy personnel and succeed in a host of other areas in our whole-county approach to COVID-19. I’m very proud to note that we have achieved so much together in the face of this unequaled time of challenge and change. Staff from across this organization have risen to meet new challenges daily as we’ve moved quickly and adapted when necessary to best serve our community. Department leaders followed new processes to implement changes in their areas that followed public health guidance and aligned with the overall effort. I’d like to use this occasion to especially thank all of those staff who have worked directly in support of our Incident Command System – during the first months of COVID especially, these staff demonstrated incredible commitment day after day working long hours and boldly facing the challenge before us.

I encourage you to watch the video of today’s board meeting discussing COVID-19, and I hope this message and actions set to occur next week help remove any concerns or uncertainty you may have about the county moving forward into the next organizational phase of its pandemic response.