Local government adapts to COVID-19

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Amid the outbreak of COVID-19 and the statewide stay-at-home order intended to slow its spread, the local government in Minneapolis has shuttered much of its public-facing services while keeping critical infrastructure and boards up and running.

Both the Minneapolis City Council and Hennepin County have declared local emergencies that give Mayor Jacob Frey and Board Chair Marion Greene special powers to coordinate response with state and federal officials.

In a press conference on March 27, Frey called on city residents to adhere to the governor’s stay-at-home order, which runs through April 10, to slow the spread of the coronavirus and avoid overrunning the health care system.

“The order is built not to reduce the number of people who will contract COVID-19, but to extend the time that we have to prepare for the inevitable rate of infections,” Frey said.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said police will be taking an educational approach to discouraging gatherings of residents before issuing citations if necessary. Through March 31, the department has yet to issue a citation but has had to break up several gatherings and educate residents about the stay-at-home order, according to spokesperson John Elder.

The City Council and County Board are now meeting remotely, with council and board members tuning in via video-messaging apps. Meetings for both entities are available online and via public access television.

In April, the Minneapolis City Council will condense its 12 standing committees into two: a business, inspections and zoning committee that will address regulatory licenses and zoning matters, and a policy and government oversight committee that will consider all other items. Both will meet weekly, as will the City Council as a whole, which will convene every Friday at 9:30 a.m.

Greene said she has not felt the need to condense the five county committees or the railroad and housing authorities during the crisis, noting that all county committees contain the entire board.

Metro Transit has vastly reduced its trip frequency during the coronavirus outbreak due to decreased demand and has been focusing on cleaning buses rigorously and promoting social distancing for riders. Local bus routes are following Saturday scheduling, as are A and C Line bus rapid transit routes. The Blue and Green light-rail lines are running 20-minute, all-day service. Riders are requested to enter and exit out of the back door and wait for the next bus if there is a crowd.

Metro Mobility has adjusted to the crisis by requesting customers only ride the vehicles on absolutely essential trips. The service, primarily used by the elderly, is offering to pick up and deliver groceries to certified customers with no fees. Minneapolis residents who use Metro Mobility can access the service by calling 651-602-1100. Metro Mobility is disinfecting it’s vehicles after each ride.

Construction on future transit lines has not slowed. Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order allows construction work to continue. The Southwest Light Rail Transit project is continuing construction, with significant work near the future Bryn Mawr station, including the construction of a new bike and pedestrian trail, planned to start in early April.

Minneapolis Public Works is also starting its spring construction season in earnest but isn’t accelerating the pace just because traffic is light, according to city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie. The project reconstructing the block of Girard Avenue South between Lake and Lagoon Avenues began in late March. The block is being redesigned as a “slow street” with a curbless design intended to be more pedestrian friendly.