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Boreal Community Media

COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Serving Cook County Through the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

Mar 20, 2020 08:54AM ● By Editor

By Rena Rogers, Interim County Administrator from Cook County MN - March 20, 2020

Two weeks ago, Cook County department heads began the process of planning and preparing for the delivery of County services as we move through the current and emerging public health emergency, we all know as the Coronavirus or COVID-19.  As your county government, we do this work with two primary goals in mind:

1.     Keep our staff as safe and healthy as possible.

2.     Maintain essential county services, some of which may become more important due to the Coronavirus situation.

We began this process by prioritizing our services. Services identified as Priority 1 or critical are services that need to always be available. Services that fall in this category are dispatch and emergency response; public health and emergency management; communication infrastructure; and emergency services provided by our Human Services department. 

Priorities 2 and 3 are generally defined by statutory or contractual timelines of within a week or within a month, respectively. And finally, Priority 4 items potentially are suspended indefinitely. Priority 4 items often include internal projects that we engage in to improve the delivery of our services.

Next we needed to understand how those services are delivered. Can staff work remotely? Are there new or different ways to deliver those services? Can certain tasks be done on a different shift? Who are the primary resources and backup resources for each service?

Then finally we took an inventory about availability of broadband at employee homes and what tools or resources were needed to send people home to do telework. 

Based on this input, policies have been put in place, such as the Temporary Telework Policy passed by the Board on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Laptops for remote work, desktop video cameras for virtual meetings, and other technology to assist telework have been ordered and deployed.

We are taking a clear-eyed look at all meetings. We are cancelling or postponing any meeting that does not require action in the short term. Many meetings are being conducted virtually using our Microsoft Office 365 tools or conference call accounts. 

In summary, in keeping with the national messaging to practice social distancing, we are trying to minimize the number of people working and visiting Cook County facilities.  

Interacting with Your County Government During this Public Health Emergency

One of the wonderful things about living in Cook County is our lack of social distancing. We gather at the Post Office. We visit offices rather than make a phone call because our friends and acquaintances work there. This will challenge us as a community, but we need to be diligent to minimize impacts to our community.

Here is how everyone in Cook County can help us serve you: Don’t visit County Offices.

Many people who generally work in County buildings may be working remotely and not available in person anyway. If you need information or access to a County service, follow these steps:

1.     Check our website. Its possible that the information, form or service you need is available on our website.

2.     Call first. On our website you can find the phone numbers for individual departments. Its possible that your question can be answered over the phone. Or, that a form or document could be mailed or emailed to you. Staff who work remotely are forwarding calls to their remote location so your calls will be answered.

3.     Mail it to us. We are working to get a drop box installed at the west entry door of the Courthouse. A drop box is available on the north end of the building for the PHHS department

4.     If after calling our offices, if your problem requires a meeting with staff, and the nature of your request is time sensitive, we will ask you to set up an appointment.

Over the next few days access to County government buildings will likely become more restrictive. Here are a few knowns for now:

The Budget Shop at the Grand Marais Recycling Center is closed until further notice. The Recycling Center will remain open.

The Community Center is closed to the public until further notice. Exceptions for now include the caterers who will operate much like our restaurants; providing take out and delivery services. Limited access for tax preparation services.

Public Meetings

Throughout this Public Health Emergency, the Board of Commissioners and other decision-making bodies will continue to meet consistent with the Open Meeting Law. We will continue to livestream these meetings. We would ask you participate in these public meetings remotely via livestream. 

If you have public comments for the Board please consider sending them directly to your commissioner or to me through the mail at 411 W. 2nd Street, Grand Marais, MN 55604 or by email at [email protected] and we will ensure that your comments are read during the public comment period.

Everyone of you is important to us and we look forward to the day when we see you standing in our offices, but for now let’s work together to minimize the impacts. Be well and don't forget to wash you hands!

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