Hennepin County board chair: ‘It’s hard to transport myself back to pre-Tuesday’

Marion Greene, Hennepin County Board Chair
Marion Greene, Hennepin County Board Chair

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Marion Greene, Hennepin County board chair

I keep a journal where I write one sentence every day. It’s hard to transport myself back to pre-Tuesday.

Behind the scenes, we have been very united on the board. Between the state and federal government, those paths of coordination and communication are still forming. There is already a weekly meeting established a couple weeks ago with county administrations in the seven-county metro area. Because we are kind of the big organism in the state of Minnesota, besides the state itself, we have a lot of existing contact and communication with the state.

But there are still things that are different. In the normal world, we can signal to each other and it doesn’t require a phone call. Now we’re in a situation where we’re doing things so quickly that we want to call and give other jurisdictions a distinct heads up.

For example something we spent a lot of time fine-tuning is the package we have in place to support county employees. Because we’re a big public employer, we want to make sure we are doing something similar to what Ramsey County, the City of Minneapolis, the City of St. Paul and the state are doing. Because we’re in this unprecedented situation, it’s so much more comfortable if we’re all holding hands before we jump. We as a county are trying to stay extremely close to the state and communicate what they are communicating, and I know the state is trying to reflect the CDC.

[Puts phone call on hold. Returns.] You’ll laugh — I’m working at home and we have a tree stump in the boulevard in front of the yard, and the city wants to come to take it out. That’s totally fine but the problem is — and this is probably the reason the tree died in the first place — our internet fiber cable runs near the tree stump. We might have to ask them not to do it because this is not the time for the internet to come down. Moments of our time. Thank goodness some of the city functions, like water and trash, are still functioning.

Today was the first day I felt like we might be pointed toward the new normal. On March 18, it was just a lot of phone calls. I was attached to my phone and to Skype. Today there was one meeting that was sort of mundane. We just wanted to establish that this group was going to continue to operate and meet about youth in Minneapolis — that’s still important.

There were other meetings that were much higher stakes where we were discussing: Have we done the right things in terms of how we’re supporting employees? Have we done the right thing in terms of closing the public service centers? Do we need to be more aggressive?

In some ways it’s gone very smoothly. I had a staff meeting remotely this morning. My internal staff hop on Microsoft Teams, which is what the county uses. So that’s been normal.

I really am so grateful for the state team and the county team. They are making data-driven decisions. Many decisions that we make we don’t have all the information. But I know each of them is smart and they are going to do a good job with whatever information they have.

What is making me nervous is the national situation, with testing for example. It’s insane how far behind we are on testing compared with what other countries have pulled off. We might just get half the testing order. I was just texting with a friend yesterday who has family in Spain about lack of ventilators, and Catalonia and the federal government disagreeing.

To see that that might happen here it’s like, “No, no, no, we can’t have infighting.” I don’t want to pit the state versus the federal government. That’s a very important symbiotic relationship, too.