Leaders from area cities have canceled meetings and events in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and are preparing to handle crises that may arise.
State of Emergency
Forest Lake Mayor Mara Bain declared the city to be put into a state of emergency at the city’s workshop meeting on Monday, March 16. The declaration allows the city’s emergency management team to deploy any necessary personnel or actions without standard permissions by the council. It also allows the city to begin an accounting mechanism that prepares the way for federal and state dollars.
“It’s important steps that we’re taking, but it’s not as ominous as the words might mean,” Bain said during the meeting.
While the order is in effect, the order is only good for three days. Within that three days, council will have to approve an extension of the state of emergency, which is planned for an emergency meeting of the council on Thursday, March 19.
The CDC’s recommendations for social distancing, a term used to describe maintaining a safe distance from others, as well as the recommendation that crowds over 10 people not gather in a space, have come at a cost. Most city meetings have been canceled, and other city meetings will be held virtually.
Scandia’s city council will be conducting meetings electronically via computer and/or phone for the foreseeable future. Wyoming’s city council, as of press time, planned to hold its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 20, while practicing “social distancing,” but are monitoring the situation and could change to a telephone or electronic meeting.
Forest Lake City Council has canceled all meetings for the rest of March, with the exception of the March 19 meeting in which city officials will participate via telephone. Since the meeting is public, if a resident wants to participate in the open forum, they must visit the council chambers, where City Administrator Patrick Casey will facilitate any questions or comments to the council via telephone.
Currently, city meetings for Forest Lake, Wyoming and Columbus and Scandia are streamed online.
City services are priority
While the handling of the fallout from the COVID-19 virus is largely up to state and federal officials, city officials say it’s their first priority to keep the cities running smoothly by keeping public works and public safety staffed and running appropriately.
“I think first thing and most important thing that the city does is continue to maintain public safety and continuation of city services. So health and safety is our top priority,” Bain said.
“We continue to plan for potential staffing losses due to the virus or quarantine by cross-training essential employees or if we had to have employees work remotely,” said Robb Linwood, Wyoming City administrator.
Each city’s emergency response team leaders are frequently in touch with county emergency management officials as they continue to monitor the situation.
“Our role is just to support the regional and statewide efforts,” Bain said.
Linwood Township’s board members were meeting together and with area leaders Monday, March 16, to help facilitate any needs.
Possible closures of facilities
Casey said that while current plans are to keep city offices open, city officials and emergency management teams are monitoring the situation and, should the need arise, city offices may close so workers can work remotely. While Casey said that scenario is unlikely, they are preparing for it. Casey said that all face-to-face interaction by city staff with residents will now be done from the glass window barriers at the City Center.
Linwood said that discussions will be taking place about keeping Wyoming’s public facilities open to the public for business.
Staff at Scandia’s city offices are present, but residents are encouraged to email or call about any concerns.
City leaders’ pleas
If there’s one thing the city leaders all iterated, it’s the need for residents to stay up-to-date on the changing recommendations throughout the evolving situation, from travel, social distancing, and best health practices.
“Be flexible and stay alert for what’s next. If you would’ve asked me a week ago, I wouldn’t have expected that we are where we are today. A week out from this, I expect we’ll also be in a different place,” Bain said.
All information for recommendations on best practices can be found at health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus.
City leaders from Columbus were unavailable for comment.