The City Council met Monday to continue a recessed regular meeting in order to discuss its drafted COVID-19 preparedness plan and a four phase process for reopening and operating city buildings.
All staff and departments have seen the plan, said City Administrator Jon Radermacher, and must be approved by the council before June 29 to go into effect.
“The key areas we’re trying to address are how we ensure that there’s a safe environment for our employees as well as the members of the public and when you have access to our building that we’ve ensured that we’ve taken steps to verify that our building and facilities are safe and sanitary,” he said.
Phase one of the plan, Radermacher said, details operations as put in place from March, with essential employees working in the office and others working at home when possible. Most facilities were closed to the public as well.
“Phase one is really where we still are today, even though the governor’s orders have been modified and allowed for some new activities to take place,” Radermacher said.
In phase two, the city will start to open some facilities while still allowing many employees to work from home and hosting virtual meetings. However Radermacher said they could create a hybrid meeting where some members teleconference in and some members meet at city hall, while adhering to social distancing and other safety practices.
“That might help us and allow for a public hearing and allow for more access for those that may not have been comfortable with our public hearings virtually or have the technology to do that,” he said.
Phase two would also allow the city to plan for customer access, likely on a reserved basis, which would make transactions like obtaining a building permit more efficient, Radermacher said.
“So phase two is really just starting to open the doors for a little more activity within the buildings but not on a full access basis,” he said.
Phase three, Radermacher said, is closer to what the governor’s order allows for currently, with local businesses being able to host customers indoors on a limited basis. In this phase, the city would have a navigation system for entering and exiting the building in a way that promotes social distancing
One concern for allowing more people is the requirements for HVAC and filtrations systems in buildings. The Minnesota Department of Health notes that greater airflow and properly ventilated areas decrease the number of contaminants in the air, which is why people are less likely to contract the virus outdoors.
“We are not at that capacity in City Hall nor do we feel that we’re going to be able to do that without massive upgrades to our heating and air conditioning units,” Radermacher said. “They’re not sufficient enough.”
The city has known about issues with ventilation for a while now, Radermacher said, and it had details in the capital improvement plan to work on it.
“That said, these plans are meant to adapt and evolve over time so it’s something that we understand and that we would want, in an ideal situation, to meet the requirements or recommendations, but we’re just not going to be able to get to that today,” he said.
For now, the city will implement manageable requirements to maintain safety in the work environment, but, Radermacher said, “access to the public is going to be challenging.”
“We as staff don’t entirely feel comfortable right now moving to absolutely phase four, but there are certain buildings and certain areas that we can start incorporating certainly elements of phase two, and in some cases elements of phase three, but we also have the facilities that we have the limitations that we do,” he said.
Phase four is described in the drafted plan as being back to “normal operations.”
There are also concerns about how the city would inform the public or staff if they were exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. Radermacher said for now the city will just try to be cautious.
All staff will be asked to self monitor for symptoms by taking their temperatures before entering the building.