“The pandemic continued, leaving a wake of hardships and death behind.”
January 2021 will start my third year of my first term in office. Normally, this might be the time that I talk about the goals I had set out and what I had accomplished. I’d probably share all the community outreach events I held, like the district wide “Coffee with the Commissioner” meetings I did in 2019. I would have had a fundraiser or two to prepare my campaign for my next run for office. All these things and more is what I’d normally be thinking about and sharing.
But 2020 wasn’t a normal year.
On March 17th of 2020, I sat on the 7th floor of the Anoka County Government center overlooking the Rum River in the heart of downtown Anoka. As our Board Chair calmly started the emergency meeting, I felt dumbfounded and heavy with foreshadowing. The day before, we had declared Anoka County in a state of emergency. COVID-19 had been making its way throughout the world, finally landing in our own backyard. At noon we closed all of our public-facing services, and our staff was tasked to accommodate a public health crisis that could not be found in a manual.
While I had personally been tracking the developments of COVID-19 with general worry, professionally I felt the responsibility as a crushing weight. I understood that events were unfolding at a speed that laid down history at our feet in a matter of hours and days rather than the usual years or decades it took in local government.
One of the first things that was immediately addressed was identifying and implementing procedures and equipment for as many of our 2,000 staff as possible so they could be deployed to work from home—securely. Our data is under constant threat every day. Protecting the information of our communities is a growing challenge during ordinary times. To organize what was determined to be roughly half our workforce in two weeks, was a grueling process that meant our Information Technology (IT) department worked non-stop.
Over the course of the months that followed, IT fine-tuned the solution by bringing in devices and programs to allow staff to continue working efficiently and safely long term. Eventually this would include virtual stations located in key spots like libraries so that clients could have “face to face” meetings with case workers virtually, in real time, that would not put their health at risk and help break down transportation barriers.
Our Public Health and Emergency Management departments were charged with having to develop plans and systems at lightning speed to ensure services like child and teen checkups, immunizations and refugee health screenings continued uninterrupted during a pandemic. This now included the addition of COVID-19 specific components like testing, public awareness, and communicating updates with leaders throughout the county. With the roll out of two approved vaccines, we now have the add-on of distribution as well.
The pandemic continued, leaving a wake of hardships and death behind. No matter who you were or where you lived, we fought to keep our homes, our jobs—and our sanity. We suffered as loved ones became ill, then suffered more because we could not be with them during their final moments or grieve them properly. No one was immune.
Anoka County received $43M in CARES Act funding* to address the needs incurred from COVID-19 and to help support our struggling community. We allocated it to three main areas: Economic Recovery ($5M went to help local businesses keep their doors open), Safety Net ($5M went to nonprofits via grants or through Human Services) and Local Government ($32M went towards county infrastructure like IT, Facilities and Public Health).
Counties are responsible for managing all elections. This is challenging to coordinate in regular times. During a pandemic with its ever-changing guidelines, a potential shortage of poll workers and a dramatic increase in mail-in voting, this was a herculean feat. Even under these stressful conditions, our Primary and General Presidential elections were done securely, safely and on time.
Every aspect of our lives has been affected by COVID-19, so too has every aspect of county government. As the dawn of distribution of a vaccine brings hope to end this pandemic, we are still a long way from returning to normal. Indeed, there may be no such thing anymore. We cannot un-live this experience nor change the lifelong grief of losing someone. There is still a lot of work to do and a long recovery ahead. When it ends is no longer a hard finish line.
I have been astounded and humbled by our staff during this public health crisis. They have worked tirelessly and with great heart. Those who could not work from home and need to interact with the public have put their health and that of their households at risk. It has been an enormous strain that goes unsung and unseen everyday so that our communities continue to get needed services.
Perhaps 2021 will look more familiar for me. Maybe I can restore the traditional formula that is required to be an elected official. It’s possible. What I know for sure is, I too am forever changed. After seeing staff go to battle everyday for months on end, seeing my community scramble to stay afloat, and seeing my own loved ones fall ill—it has marked me. And I will honor my experience by putting every story of challenge and resiliency I have had the privilege to see and hear, into the work that lies ahead.
Wishing you a safe and healthy 2021.
Read my previous blog about politics HERE.
Read my next blog about politics HERE.
*Anoka County received another $7M from the state of MN to help businesses and nonprofits who have financial hardships due to COVID. Grants will be given out in $15K-$45K allotments (depending on number of Full Time Equivalents). There is no deadline for recipients of when to spend funds, and no requirements for how to spend the funds, so long as you can show lost revenue. All Anoka County Chambers of Commerce and performing artists now qualify to apply for county grants. The application process will start in early January 2021. Feel free to email me with questions or if you need help. Mandy.Meisner@co.Anoka.mn.us
According to the MN Department of Health, as of the publication of this blog there have been 5,430 deaths in MN with 420,544 positive cases total.
Mandy Meisner is the Anoka County Commissioner for District 4 (Fridley, Columbia Heights, Hilltop and part of Spring Lake Park). District 4 is the most diverse district in Anoka County. You can connect with Mandy on Facebook.
This blog is not an official communication of Anoka County, and does not represent the opinion of anyone else on the Anoka County Board, Anoka County staff, or any other body Commissioner Meisner serves on.
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