Minneapolis City Council members are set to decide Thursday whether to extend the city’s public health emergency, and some will likely participate from outside City Hall.
The declaration allows Mayor Jacob Frey to enact emergency regulations to protect the public health and speed up the purchase of emergency supplies. It could also ease the city’s efforts to obtain federal aid, if it becomes available.
As they decide, at least some of the council members will likely be weighing in remotely as part of their own efforts to practice the social distancing recommended by health officials.
In the days leading up to the vote, council members received several public briefings from department heads about the city’s efforts to control the spread of coronavirus and the potential impacts of an emergency declaration order.
City officials assured them that critical services like water treatment, police and fire responses continue, but workers have been given directions on how to maintain their distance and properly clean any city vehicles they might be using. Many people who can have begun working remotely.
Some first-responders are receiving protective equipment, such as masks, but Fire Chief John Fruetel cautioned council members on Wednesday that they do not have an “endless supply.” Part of the emergency declaration gives the city’s finance department the authority to make purchases for emergency supplies without having to go through the normal approval process.
Asked what the council could do to help ensure that crucial city employees have what they need, Barret Lane, director of the Office of Emergency Management, urged them to extend the emergency declaration.
“I think supporting the mayor’s resolution here is going to be the key,” Lane said. “That’s the one thing that we would ask that you thoughtfully consider that.”
In the days since he declared an emergency, Frey has made several changes to city business by enacting emergency regulations. As of Wednesday afternoon, he had enacted five of them.
Just before Gov. Tim Walz ordered a similar shutdown, Frey ordered bars and restaurants to close or offer only takeout, delivery or drive-through service. As of Wednesday afternoon, no locations had been cited for violating that new rule. There has been “no issue with compliance problems,” according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
Late Tuesday, Frey added similar restrictions for adult day care centers and other similar facilities. Spokesman Mychal Vlatkovich said the city had received reports that some of those types of facilities were still hosting large gatherings of close to 50 people. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that organizers postpone or cancel those types of events. The adult day care centers will still be allowed to offer other services, such as home visits or food drop-offs.
The city also has temporarily stopped receiving land use applications and announced that it is waiving late fees for the renewal of food, taxi, liquor, wine, beer or catering licenses.
The emergency declaration doesn’t change police powers within the city, except that it could lead to the enactment of new regulations for officers to enforce, both the police chief and a city attorney told council members on Wednesday.
Council Member Lisa Goodman asked if police were seeing any new crime trends as schools and businesses close and people begin sheltering in place. She noted that her ward had at least two unusual calls, both involving armed robbers. In one of them, someone was chased down a bike path with a car and held up at gunpoint.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told her it was too early to have definitive statistics, but he has asked officers in his department to monitor for changes.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994