A state of emergency for Wright County was declared by the Board of Wright County Commissioners on Tuesday morning, following a cue by the state of Minnesota which has been put under a similar state of emergency in an effort to slow the spread of the corona-virus.
County commissioners opened the meeting at 9 a.m., rushed through several agenda items, tabled others, and then closed the meeting a half hour later to go into a closed session to discuss specific emergency measures. Coming out of the closed session about an hour later, Commission Chair Christine Husom reported that all public counters in the Wright County Courthouse, with the exception of the sheriff’s department, will be closed “in an abundance of caution.”
This state of emergency will remain in effect until April 1, she said.
The final action during the abbreviated open part of the meeting was to approve a two-page emergency declaration that points out, in part, that there have been positive test results for the virus also known as COVID-19. After coming out of the closed meeting, commissioners revisited the declaration to make some slight amendments and corrections, including a note that there has been only one positive case of the virus in the county, thus far.
The declaration directs county departments to review ordinance and regulatory requirements, operations, civil and legal proceedings, events and resources that can be adjusted or suspended. It also gives the county the power to enact emergency regulations to support the residents of Wright County during the pandemic. The declaration directs the Wright County Public Health Director/Community Health Services Administrator, and the Wright County Director of Emergency Management to request and coordinate appropriate aid and resources from surrounding jurisdictions and the state of Minnesota, as needed.
The action comes as the state, the country and the world all attempt to come to grips with a growing pandemic properly called COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December and has been gradually growing and spreading world-wide ever since. State-wide, all schools, theaters, museums, restaurants, bars, health clubs and other venues where people tend to gather in groups were ordered closed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Monday. Earlier, on March 13, the governor declared a “Peacetime State of Emergency.”
The emergency declaration also notes that President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13 and that a country-wide public health emergency was declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 31.
Locally, schools have already closed and many events have been cancelled. On Monday, the Wright County Parks and Trails Department curtailed all planned events and meetings in county parks, while keeping parks and trails open. This past weekend, popular St. Patrick’s celebration activities in Maple Lake were postponed.
As cases of the virus continue to increase in the United States, the goal is to slow its spread and to protect people deemed most vulnerable. Although symptoms for most people appear to be mild, health officials are discovering that this new strain of the corona-virus appears to be considerably more serious and sometimes deadly for elderly persons and those with underlying health risks.
Upon reopening the public portion of the board meeting, Commissioner Husom stated, “This is a very fluid situation. We ask that staff and the public stay informed as we continue to make changes to better serve and protect the citizens of Wright County.”
Besides closing public counters at the courthouse, commissioners asked county employees to begin telecommuting “to the extent possible”, and that meetings by all non-essential committees be cancelled.
A “Continuity of Operations Plan” meeting was scheduled for Wednesday morning, during which county commissioners and department heads met to go over planning efforts. “If this continues to be an issue, we need to make plans going forward,” Husom said. “For the near future, we just believe that limiting our contact with the public will help to slow the spread of COVID-19. We don’t know enough about it to say that it’s going to go away in a short period of time or whatever.”
Husom explained that county government and the courthouse will not be shut down, but that most interactions with the general public will be limited as much as possible. Department heads, she said, will be asked to make staffing decisions. “We may not be dealing with the public at the windows, but there is still certainly a lot of work,” she said. “We will continue the business of the county.”
Commissioner Darek Vetsch commented, “This is challenging for us as well as for all of you. This is a playbook we’ve never opened before.”
More information regarding the emergency declaration, as well as specific information about individual departments will be available on the county website (co.wright.mn.us). Although face to face interaction is limited for the duration of the crisis, it was noted that many situations can be dealt with via telephone calls, email or mail.
Several days earlier Wright County Administrator Lee Riley released a statement regarding COVID-19 restrictions. It said, in part: “Staff has been tracking the spread of COVID-19 for the last two months and is in preparedness and response mode in the event that additional cases are identified in Wright County. Our Public Health Division has been in direct contact with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on a daily basis and is following the guidance being put forth by MDH, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization.”
Wright County has a Continuity of Operations Plan in place that deals specifically with situations like this. County departments have been preparing for how their offices will function in the event of having a shorthanded work force to provide the services of their departments.
During the half hour not devoted to the corona-virus, county commissioners quickly took care of additional business, including improving several bids related to planned highway projects.
A very favorable bid for the planned reconstruction of Highway 39 in Otsego was approved. Commissioners awarded the four-lane Highway 39 reconstruction/expansion project bid to Park Construction Company, Minneapolis. They had the low bid of $6,325,785. The low bid came in 24 percent less than the original engineering cost estimate of $8,319,471.
Commissioners also approved mixed bituminous seasonal bids from MN Paving and Materials, Omann Brothers, and Mid-Minnesota Hot Mix. All bids were accepted to give the county highway department the ability to request bituminous from the plant located nearest to the project at which it will be used.
A bid for pavement markings on various county highways was awarded to AAA Striping, St. Michael, in the amount of $422,800.
A seal coating contract was awarded to Pearson Brothers, Hanover, in the amount of $671,990. An estimated 30 miles of county highway is scheduled to be seal coated this season.
Finally, commissioners agreed to pay half of the cost of a project in Cokato to update traffic signals at the intersection of U.S. Highway 122 and CASH 3. The county half of the cost will be $156,583, with the Minnesota Department of Transportation paying for the other half.
In other action, commissioners:
ADOPTED a resolution approving of a charitable gambling event planned by the Rockford Lions Club.
TABLED discussion concerning a resolution to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in Wright County.