General Operational Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: March 21, 2020

(Updated Feb. 12, 2021)

Get answers to FAQs regarding general council and city operational issues:

Meetings & council business

Declaring an emergency

Managing normal city business

Stay Safe MN

Meetings & council business

Q1. If it is determined that it is not advisable to gather for a city council meeting, is there any way to allow for a quorum to conduct at least basic business via a conference call and stay within the Open Meeting Law?

A1. Even in times of emergency, the Open Meeting Law will still apply to any meeting with a quorum. However, councils may hold meetings over the telephone (or by other electronic means) so long as the presiding officer, chief legal counsel, or chief administrative officer determines that it is not practical or prudent to hold the meeting in person because of a health pandemic, or when the mayor or governor has declared an emergency.

This meeting will still need to be open and accessible. Both the council members and the public must be able to hear any discussion, testimony, or votes. Voting must be done by roll call so that all votes can be identified and recorded.

Notice must still be provided, and additionally, the council must also give notice that 1) some members may participate by telephone, and 2) that the public may monitor the meeting by telephone.

Traditionally, meeting via telephone would still require a member of the council, the chief legal counsel, or the chief administrative officer to be present at the regular meeting location. However, if the mayor or governor has declared an emergency, or if it is not feasible to be physically present due to a health pandemic, the entire meeting can be held via telephone or other electronic means.

City councils may also hold meetings via interactive TV (including web-based technology like Skype), though this has more restrictions, such as one member of council needing to be present, limited uses per councilmember, and so on.

Information about council meetings by telephone under emergency circumstances is found in Minnesota Statutes 13D.021. Details about notice requirements are found in Minnesota Statutes 13D.04. Also, there is a League information memo about open meeting laws (with more details about holding meetings via interactive TV) that may be useful.

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Q2. Can the council delegate the authority to staff to pay bills and invoices before being approved?

A2. There is authority for the council to delegate the paying of bills without prior council approval by a designated person. Typically, this is the clerk or treasurer. In order to do this, the council has to pass a resolution, establish internal control procedures, and prepare audited financial statements. A list of expenditures must still be presented to the council at the next council meeting for informational purposes. The requirements to do this are discussed on pages 6-7 of the LMC information memo, Procedures for Paying City Claims.

View the information memo: Procedures for Paying City Claims

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Q3. Can the city reduce the number of public meetings it holds each month to one?

A3. State law does not govern the time, place, or frequency of council meetings. Regular meetings of the council, however, must be held at times and places established by council rules. Councils typically meet once or twice a month in the city hall or at another public place in the city.

The council must keep a schedule of its regular meetings on file at its primary office. If the council decides to hold a meeting at a different time or place from that stated in its schedule of regular meetings, it generally must give the notice required for a special meeting.

If the city will be reducing the number of meetings as opposed to adding more, a resolution that amends the existing council rule, which states there are two meetings a month, should suffice. The resolution should also change the meeting schedule that is on file at city hall. General public relations like advertising the meeting change is recommended so that residents are not confused about the change.

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Q4. Does the mask mandate require both the council and residents to wear masks during our meetings at city hall?

A4. Yes, beginning midnight Friday July 24, the mask mandate does require all individuals over the age of 5 to wear masks. The city will also need to post one or more signs that are visible to all persons – including workers, customers, and visitors – instructing them to wear face coverings as required by Executive Order 20-81. The city is not required but may provide masks to those entering the facility. One exception applies for face covering requirements during a meeting when testifying, speaking, or performing in an indoor business or public indoor space, in situations or settings such as governmental meetings subject to the Open Meeting Law (Minnesota Statutes 2019, Chapter 13D), presentations, or lectures, provided that social distancing is always maintained. Face shields should be considered as an alternative in these situations.

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Declaring an emergency

Q5. Can the mayor declare a public health emergency? Or does that have to come from the governor or public health director?

A5. Yes. The mayor is responsible for declaring a local emergency. This declaration allows the city to use the parts of its disaster plan that are appropriate to the situation. The declaration may also authorize aid and assistance under those plans. If the mayor does declare a local emergency, it must be publicized and published. A local emergency lasting longer than three days requires the consent of the council. Because the emergency declaration is local, the emergency management functions are limited to the territorial boundaries of your city, unless other law becomes applicable. Examples of other laws include existing mutual aid agreements or cooperation required if the governor were to declare a state of emergency. Minnesota Statutes 12.29 and 12.25 address local emergencies.

Learn more about declaring a local emergency and holding telephone or electronic meetings

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Q6. What procedures are available to delegate authority to staff during an emergency?

A6. Every city or county will be different. Please look to your emergency plan, continuity of operations plan, or pandemic plan. If you do not have a plan in place, a resolution declaring a local emergency would be a place you could include this information. To request samples, please contact the League’s Research & Information Service Department at research@lmc.org.

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Q7. Does the declaration of emergency by the state mean that sick leave or quarantine will be reimbursable from emergency funds?

A7. It does not. Stay tuned for potential state and federal legislation on this topic. It would be a good idea for cities to document their costs during this response. There may be reimbursements offered later and would be good data to have in planning for future emergencies.

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Managing normal city business

Q8. If the stay-at-home order is over, should we still be allowing employees to work from home?

A8. Yes, Gov. Walz’s COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency Executive Order requires, “Any worker who can work from home must do so.” Whether the position allows an employee to work from home would be up to the employer to determine.

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Q9. Do critical-sector businesses need to create COVID-19 Preparedness Plans?

A9. Yes. Critical businesses, including cities, must develop a COVID-19 Preparedness plan (similar to non-critical businesses that were allowed to open earlier). The state published guidance on June 15, 2020, and plans were required to be adopted by June 29. COVID-19 Preparedness Plans must be updated per Executive Order 20-81 to include the face covering requirements. The Industry Guidance applicable to the business may include face covering requirements that are more protective than those of this executive order, consistent with applicable law.

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Q10. Do you have any guidance about granting peddlers licenses with the COVID-19 situation?

A10. If the city is operating normally, that function should continue. If the city has declared an emergency, that may be a function you do not consider critical, you may be able to suspend issuance and enforcement actions.

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Q11. Is there any guidance available for first responders, building inspectors, etc. on the use of masks when entering homes or other buildings where folks might be ill?

A11. See guidance for first responders and law enforcement from the CDC

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Q12. Can our first responders have information about people in our community who have tested positive for COVID?

A12. Executive Order 20-34 directs the Minnesota Department of Health to share the addresses of COVID-positive patients who are still considered contagious with 911 operators. To the maximum extent possible, 911 dispatchers and first responders will rely upon other sources of information, such as a caller screening protocol, before using the shared data. 911 dispatchers may provide the shared data only to first responders who have an emergent need to know the shared data to aid in their infection control precautions. Please note:

  • Unless no other means of communication is available, the shared data must not be disseminated over any channel of communication that could be actively monitored by the public or uninvolved parties. When using channels of communication that could be actively monitored by the public or uninvolved parties, 911 dispatchers and first responders are encouraged to use coded language or other similar methods that would prevent the public or uninvolved parties from obtaining the shared data.
  • Only the addresses of those people who MDH has determined to be contagious to others will be shared. MDH must promptly notify DPS when an address is no longer associated with a person who is contagious, and DPS must then promptly cause the shared data to be deleted or removed from 911 dispatch systems.
  • Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.03, subdivision 4(c), shared data remains classified as private data on individuals and not public data under Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.02, subdivisions 8a and 12, and Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 13.3805, subdivision 1.
  • No recipient of this shared data may use the information as a basis to refuse or delay a call for service or cause others to refuse or delay a call for service.

Read more in the MDH/DPS Protocol Related to Executive Order 20-34 (pdf) and the Training Bulletin for First Responders (pdf). Please note, most cities do not have to take any action. Entities that operate a Public Safety Answering Point will need to sign confidentiality agreements. Cities should review with their first responders the protocols for how they will receive this data and what data to include in written reports.

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Q13. Our first responders are almost out of N95 masks. Where can we get more?

A13. The Minnesota Department of Health encourages cities in this circumstance to reach out to your Regional Heath Care Preparedness Coordinator.

See a list of Regional Health Care Preparedness Coordinators and their contact information

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Q14. Are any required reporting deadlines for cities extended?

A14. No. In Emergency Executive Order 20-22, Gov. Walz gave the state auditor the discretion to suspend, extend, or otherwise modify any state statutorily imposed deadline or reporting requirement pertaining to reports or other filings to the state auditor by a political subdivision. As of Nov. 12, 2020 this executive order has been rescinded and all reporting deadlines are reinstated. If you have other questions regarding reporting, please refer to the frequently asked questions on the OSA website, email GID.OSA@osa.state.mn.us, or call (651) 297-3682. More details about future deadline suspensions or extensions will be posted on the website for the Office of the State Auditor.

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Q15. Can the city financially support local businesses that have been forced to close or are struggling due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

A15. There is no authority in state law for a city to financially support businesses. In addition, it is likely that there is no public purpose for such an expenditure. The Office of the State Auditor consistently emphasizes that there must be legal authority and a public purpose for expenditures of public funds. Charter cities should refer to their charter to see if such authority exists. Cities may be able to provide assistance through an economic development authority, but should consult legal counsel for an analysis of potential avenues of assistance.

Financial assistance from the Small Business Administration and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development may soon be available.

Learn more about assistance for small businesses from the DEED website

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Q16. Are there any COVID-19 materials available in foreign languages?

A16. Yes! The MDH has a variety of COVID-19 informational materials in Spanish, Hmong, Russian, and many other languages.
Get MDH COVID materials in different languages

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Q17. Should the city require participants in recreation activities to sign a waiver and release of liability?

A17. The decision to use waivers is a policy question for each city. Some cities may take the approach that if the city’s negligence causes an injury (and the city is not immune from liability), the city should be held responsible. In that case, a waiver would not be appropriate. Other cities may take the position that the city should do everything possible to protect the city from liability, including the use of waivers. LMCIT does not have a formal position to encourage or discourage the use of waivers.

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Q18. Should COVID-19 language be used in waivers?

A18. Most waivers are likely broad enough to protect the city from COVID-19 claims. However, in light of the current coronavirus pandemic, it would be a good idea to include specific COVID-19 language. Such language should include waiving claims related to COVID-19 as well as assuming the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

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Q19. Does the League have a sample waiver with COVID-19 language?

A19. Yes. The League has drafted a sample park and recreation waiver with COVID-19 language. The city should consult with its attorney for guidance related to specific situations.

Q20. Are masks required to be worn indoors now? Does the city need to provide masks to employees or residents entering their facilities?

A20. Gov. Walz’s Executive Order 20-81 requires masks to be worn in most indoor settings and some outdoor settings. The city does not need to, but may, supply masks to employees and/or residents.

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Q21. If the city has a stricter mask requirement which mask mandate applies?

A21. If city requirements are more stringent, city requirements will apply.

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Q22. Is the city responsible for enforcing the governor’s mask mandate?

A22. State and local licensing and regulatory entities that regulate businesses for compliance with statutes, rules, and codes to protect the public are encouraged to assess regulated businesses’ compliance with this Executive Order and use existing enforcement tools to bring businesses into compliance. Any individual who willfully violates this Executive Order is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and upon conviction must be punished by a fine not to exceed $100. This does not apply to: (1) children younger than 14 years old; or (2) students 14 years old and older who are enrolled in a school or higher education institution identified in Paragraph 12 of this Executive Order, and who are on the premises of the school or institution for educational purposes. See Executive Order 20-81.

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Q23. What type of face covering meets the requirements? What doesn’t?

A23. A “face covering” must be worn to cover the nose and mouth completely, and can include a paper or disposable face mask, a cloth face mask, a scarf, a bandanna, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering. Medical-grade masks and respirators are sufficient face coverings, but to preserve adequate supplies, their purchase and use is discouraged for Minnesotans who do not work in a health care setting or in other occupations that require medical-grade protective equipment (e.g., certain construction occupations). Masks that incorporate a valve designed to facilitate easy exhaling, mesh masks, or masks with openings, holes, visible gaps in the design or material, or vents are not sufficient face coverings because they allow exhaled droplets to be released into the air.

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Stay Safe MN

Q24. Does Executive Order 21-07 open all places of public accommodation?

A24.  Executive Order 21-07 allows both indoor and outdoor places of public accommodation to reopen.

  • Indoor and outdoor dining is restricted to 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people.
  • Gym and fitness centers are restricted to 25% with a maximum capacity of 250 people.
  • Outdoor event and entertainment venues are restricted to 25% capacity with a maximum capacity of 250 people.
  • Indoor event and entertainment venues (like movie theaters, bowling alleys, warming houses, etc.) are restricted to 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 people.
  • Organized sports and games have resumed with spectators subject to applicable venue guidance.
  • Pools are restricted to 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 people.
  • Wedding receptions and other private parties up to 50 people may resume with restrictions dependent on whether food and drink are served and venue specific guidance.

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Q25. Are there penalties associated with violating the orders?

A25. A facility’s penalty for non-compliance of Executive Order 21-07 is up to $25,000. Violation of an executive order for an individual is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days. Nothing in the executive order is intended to encourage or allow law enforcement to transgress individual constitutional rights. Violation of specifically Executive Order 20-81 (requiring face coverings) is a petty misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by a fine not to exceed $100.

Download the LMC model Park and Recreation Waiver with COVID-19 Language (doc)

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Q26. Should we close restrooms in our city park?

A26. When public restrooms remain open, they encourage park use. With increased park use, social distancing may be more difficult to achieve. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources COVID-19 response includes public restrooms information.If bathroom facilities are open, they must be cleaned and disinfected regularly in accordance with the DNR’s Outdoor Recreation Guidelines.

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Q27. Can the city’s ice rink, warming houses, and golf courses be open for use?

A27. Yes. Per the Governor’s Executive Orders, ice rinks, warming houses, and golf club houses may be open per Industry Guidance for Outdoor Recreation Entities; and indoor and outdoor food and beverage service may continue per the Industry Guidance for Safely Reopening for Restaurants and Bars.

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Q28. Can our city campground be open?

A28. Campgrounds following state guidance can be open for recreational camping.

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Q29. What are the restrictions on church services?

A29. Venues may be able to host weddings, funerals, or services, provided that they adhere to the below requirements set by the state’s Guidance for Faith-Based Communities, Places of Worship, Weddings, and Funerals:

  • In all settings, ensure a minimum of 6 feet of physical distancing between households, in addition to requiring facial coverings.
  • Religious services and ceremonies are limited to 50% capacity up to 250 people.
  • Develop and implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in accordance with guidance developed by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
  • Drive-in gatherings are also permitted, provided that all participants remain within their own vehicles and follow guidelines provided by MDH.

Gatherings for receptions and other activities before and after ceremonies or services may resume subject to restrictions.

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Q30. Can people get together with friends and family now?

A30. It is strongly discouraged. Executive Order 21-07 allows indoor social gatherings involving not more than two households, up to a maximum of 10 people, as long as members of different households maintain at least 6 feet of separation from each other and adhere to additional precautions for social gatherings as outlined on the Stay Safe Minnesota website. Outdoor social gatherings involving not more than three households, up to a maximum of 15 people, are permitted as long as members of different households maintain at least 6 feet of separation from each other, and participants adhere to additional precautions for social gatherings as outlined on the Stay Safe Minnesota website. Social gatherings are defined as groups of individuals, who are not members of the same household, congregated together for a common or coordinated social, community, or leisure purpose — even if social distancing can be maintained.

Visit the Stay Safe Minnesota website for more details

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Q31. Should city playgrounds be open to the public?

A31. The decision to be open or closed is for the city to make. If the playground equipment is open for use, a best practice is for the city to have a regular schedule for cleaning and sanitizing the play surfaces and/or post signs that warn users of the risk because the playground is not sanitized.

For examples of playground signs, check out this blog

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Q32. Can our city pools or aquatic facilities be opened?

A32. Yes. Pools and aquatic facilities may be open at 25% capacity not to exceed 250 people per Industry Guidance for Reopening of Public Swimming Pool and Aquatic Facilities.

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Q33. Can our community center start renting space again? What about our city’s park shelters?

A33. Community centers and park shelters likely may be rented out again per the applicable restrictions for Social Gatherings and Industry Specific Guidance. This may look very different from pre-COVID, depending on the purpose of the rental. First, the city should have a Preparedness Plan adopted. Educating the renters on the city’s plan, their responsibilities, and the limits of the current executive orders is critical. For example, self-serve food in a buffet is not allowed, and social distancing of tables and people who live in different households is still required. Your city attorney is best equipped to advise the city on the particular circumstances of the event.

Visit the Stay Safe MN website for more details

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Q34. Do employees count toward the capacity limits on various industries?

A34. No, workplaces do not fall under the gathering limits of various industries.

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Q35. Can COVID-19 be transmitted via the water supply?

A35. The CDC says that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods of filtration and disinfection should remove the virus.

Learn more about water transmission and COVID-19 from the CDC

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Q36. I heard something about a new app for notifying you if you have been exposed to COVID-19. Is it publicly available?

A36. Yes, the state launched the COVIDaware MN app, available for both Apple and Android devices. Your phone and the phones around you work anonymously in the background, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to exchange privacy-protected keys provided to someone if they report testing positive for COVID-19. If you come into contact with someone who has reported testing positive for COVID-19, the app will notify you. The app does not access your personal information and does not require you to provide any personal information.

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