As other libraries begin to reopen their doors to the public, a localized coronavirus measurement tool could aid leaders at Grand Forks’ public library as they work to do the same.
Staff and officials at the library, which rebranded last year to “Grand Forks Public_” with an underscore at the end, have had a reopening plan in place since May in a format that’s become nearly ubiquitous to governments of all levels during the COVID-19 pandemic: a series of phases that outline decreasingly stringent plans for staff, patrons and the building as epidemiological circumstances grow less risky. But that plan doesn’t outline when the library might move between those phases, which is why its board of directors is set to meet Sept. 30 to reconsider its finer points and consider specific criteria that would define each phase.
The idea would be similar to North Dakota's Smart Restart plan and a now-shelved one floated at Grand Forks City Hall, where civic leaders suggested attaching specific public health recommendations to each level of a Grand Forks County-focused COVID gauge. Library leaders might refer to that gauge when they decide to move from one phase of their reopening plan to another.
“Now there are the color codes for both the city and the state, and so maybe those need to be incorporated into the plan,” Wendy Wendt, the library’s director, told the Herald on Monday.
The library has yet to reopen because of a large influx of cases this summer, she said, and many of its patrons are senior citizens and homeless people, who can be particularly vulnerable to the virus.
“We’re a popular center for the most at-risk people in the community,” Wendt said.
Presently, library staff are offering curbside service for patrons, but the building itself off South Washington Street is closed to the public. Only 10 people total -- staff members included -- are allowed inside at a time, and staggered groups of employees alternate between working from home and working in-person to minimize interactions that could spread the virus among one another.
Still, Wendt said, residents have called and emailed staff there, asking for the library to reopen and wondering why it hasn’t done so already.
The meeting at the end of this month is a special one scheduled specifically to work on the re-opening plan. The library’s board regularly meets in the middle of each month. Wendt said it would take “too long” to wait an entire month.
Other libraries across North Dakota have fewer restrictions on their staff and patrons. Fargo Public Library’s three branches, for instance, have gone back to their normal, pre-COVID hours, but have removed some computers and furniture, closed study and meeting rooms and installed Plexiglass partitions. Library staff wear masks on the job, and patrons are asked, but not required, to do the same. The library has caches of masks ready as needed.
Fargo’s library system began reopening in mid-July.
“The key thing there was working with the environmental health folks and employee health to get all the things in place that we needed to kind of reconfigure our three locations,” said Tim Dirks, Fargo Public Library’s director.
The library system there has a reopening plan of its own, but it’s also not tied to specific COVID criteria. It’s currently in stage 2 of 3.
And in East Grand Forks, the city’s Campbell Library has opened slightly further than it had even a month earlier. Since Sept. 8, the building has been open as-normal on Tuesdays and Fridays, by appointment on Wednesdays, and offers “front door pickup” service on Mondays and Thursdays. It remains closed on weekends.