County extends facility closures to May 18: Services remain available by web or phone

Heads of county departments shared the measures they’re taking to safely open their doors and protect the health of residents and 498 county employees with county commissioners Tuesday, April 28.

Crow Wing County Historic Court House1.jpg
Crow Wing County Historic Court House April 15, 2020, in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Crow Wing County announced Thursday, April 30, it will extend the closure of county facilities to the public through May 18 in accordance with Gov. Tim Walz extending the state’s stay-at-home order.

“We’re doing everything within our power, short of something drastic changing, to have a thoughtful and measured way to open our county buildings and begin to encourage one-to-one service delivery without large crowds,” said County Administrator Tim Houle by phone Thursday.

While facilities are closed, the vast majority of county governmental services remain available to residents online and over the phone as employees continue working mostly from home.

“Documents are still being recorded, permits and tax payments are still being processed,” a Thursday news release stated. “Our probation agents are still connecting with clients and people are still being prosecuted in court. Our jail staff continue to manage inmates, law enforcement are still patrolling our roads and providing public safety. County staff are helping residents with child support, financial assistance and elder care, and looking out for individuals and families.”


Kara Terry, Crow Wing County Community Services director, describes how the department will operate its facility when it's reopened to the public during a county board meeting Tuesday, April 28. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Changes to facilities

All departments are also busy with preparations to reopen facilities to the public. Before Walz extended the order, county officials planned to reopen after Monday, May 4. Heads of county departments shared the measures they’re taking to safely open their doors and protect the health of residents and 498 county employees with county commissioners Tuesday, April 28.

Virtual technology tools, mask-wearing, symptom screening, Plexiglas barriers and accommodations for social distancing were among the common threads in cross-department response. Most county employees are expected to wear masks if they leave their offices to interact with the public right now, and that’s expected to continue after reopening buildings.

Headed by Deborah Erickson, the administrative services department serves other county departments and consists of four divisions — facilities, information technology, finances and elections.

Facilities staff are setting up permanent and temporary barriers in county buildings, including at service counters, public computer areas and interview rooms. Public touchpoints — such as activity centers for children, vending machines and drinking fountains — will be temporarily disabled or closed.

Glass partitions are installed throughout the campus and desks and other furniture will likely be rearranged in office areas to allow for at least 6 feet of space. Adjustments are planned to heating, ventilation and air conditioning in buildings to allow for more fresh air and extended run times.

Erickson said there will also likely be changes to furniture and employee breakrooms based on recommendations from the county’s cleaning contractor. The county is considering swapping out fabric furniture for vinyl, so it’s easier to clean. Rather than reusable dishware employees were previously encouraged to supply themselves, the county will use disposable dishes and utensils, along with discouraging shared items such as salad dressings and butter.

High traffic areas

Three buildings see most of the public traffic — land services, community services and the judicial center.


The community services building could see as many as 300 people come and go in a typical day before the coronavirus. Community Services Director Kara Terry said the Minnesota Department of Human Services has issued several waivers to county governments, allowing them to do some work virtually or by phone that would otherwise be required to happen in person. The department will start with a soft reopening, Terry said. In development is a route plan for the public as they enter and to maneuver them through the building while maintaining social distancing. Plexiglas barriers are already in place.

Gary Griffin, Crow Wing County Land Services director, explained the changes to his department's facility and operations Tuesday, April 28, during a county board meeting. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

At the customer service counter in the land services building, Land Services Director Gary Griffin said they’ll use four of the nine terminals to keep customers and employees properly spaced. He said this will likely result in longer lines than years past, but customer flow shouldn’t be significantly affected. Griffin said they’re working on a public building route as well, which Griffin compared to a roundabout. He encouraged residents to reach out by email or phone first — even once facilities reopen.

As for the judicial center, County Attorney Don Ryan said there are still questions to be answered about reopening the courts. That timeline will come from the state rather than county government, so may not align with when the rest of county facilities open.

Benches in the hallways are now spread farther apart, and Ryan said tape will mark 6-foot distances in those areas. Getting people into the building is a trickier prospect at the judicial center, given the screening process at the entrance. Ryan said on a morning like Tuesday — when there was a steady rain — 15-30 people standing on the sidewalk spaced 6 feet apart, waiting to get into the courthouse, wouldn’t be ideal.

As for how court proceedings will be conducted, Ryan said there are more questions than answers. Felony and gross misdemeanor jury trials, for example, will pose a challenge with 14 jurors alone.

“We’ve looked at things like virtual jury trials,” Ryan said. “Maybe have the jury over in our training room in land services and have everybody else in the courtroom. … That’s probably not going to work, particularly when you’re trying to have that video transmission and look at body language and stuff, so that’s probably not what we’re going to do.”


County government services are available

For services, the public should visit or call 218-824-1067 to be directed to the correct department. People can also contact their county commissioners to assist in navigating county government.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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