Hennepin County declares emergency, closing libraries and service centers

Linden Hills Library
Linden Hills Library. Photo by Zac Farber

The Hennepin County Board ratified a local emergency declaration that will close public libraries and service centers and approved $3 million to acquire temporary quarantine shelters for vulnerable populations in response to the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, March 17.

Board Chair Marion Greene, who represents Southwest Minneapolis, declared a county state of emergency March 16, which the board officially supported March 17. The move implements measures to close 41 libraries, 18 human service centers and all the license centers until April 6.

“These are unnerving times,” Greene said. “We’re working as fast as we can to respond as best as we know how.”

County Administrator David Hough said employees met March 17 to discuss how to provide those services remotely to residents.

The declaration grants Greene emergency powers to coordinate response actions with state and federal officials. It also allocates $2.5 million to pay for supplies for county emergency response personnel.

The board also approved an emergency action giving Hough’s office $3 million to acquire emergency quarantine housing for coronavirus patients who are experiencing homelessness or otherwise lack a place to quarantine. The county will look to lease an apartment building or motel that has non-shared units with a separate bathroom for such housing. In King County, Washington, officials have already spent more than $19 million on such housing due to the significant outbreak in the Seattle area.

“We would be ready and nimble when the situation arises and we have to house individuals.” Hough said.

The County Board also approved a resolution to accommodate county employees who are affected by coronavirus by granting an additional 80 hours of PTO to any worker who gets sick or has a household member contract the virus.

Board members and county officials said more actions may be needed as the outbreak progresses.

“I think we’re quickly learning that this is both a sprint and a marathon,” Greene said.