A big problem developed when the 11 inches of snow that landed on the roof of the Polk County Human Service Center in East Grand Forks during the most recent storm started to melt during the first days of April.

    A roof replacement project was underway at the time and the water from the melt pooled 11 inches deep in one area of the roof before finding ways through it.

    For reference, the building, which had been built in the 1970s as a Warehouse Foods store and was the home of Maury’s TV & Appliance before the county purchased it in 2001, houses satellite Polk County offices in East Grand Forks for Social Services, Public Health and Veterans Services. Other space is rented to the Northwest Mental Health Center, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Tri-County Community Corrections, Inter-County Community Council, and DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development).

    If there is one splinter of benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic — and there certainly can’t be many, if any — it would be that to accommodate interior remodeling work most of the offices — Northwest Mental Health being the exception — had moved their operations to off-site locations prior to the snowstorm and melting problem.

    The space occupied by Northwest Mental Health Center, which had undergone an extensive expansion and remodeling project just last year, received the most damage. The area occupied by Public Health had severe damage, too, with every area of the building affected.

    Virtually all the floor had water. Some sheetrock walls — both new and existing —had to be removed because of water damage and because of the threat of mold and other issues down the road. Restoration is underway with insurance expected to cover the cost.

   Throughout this water event and the ongoing coronavirus ordeal, there has been another showing of the high quality of our Polk County employees. All of them are now working from home. When there has been any kind of a problem, they always step up. They know what they are doing and have more than proved their worth over time by doing what is best for the county.

    During my time as a county commissioner, I have learned that it is often best just to step back, try to give them what they need to do the job and then get out of the way. Let those who know best do what needs to be done.

    The same trust seems to go for other people in the county, the state, the country and the world. Just look at everything that those heroes in healthcare are doing. And those in law enforcement, the firefighters, first responders, ambulance attendants, dispatchers, and the people in emergency management.

    Really on top of their jobs now, too, are the checkout gals at the grocery stores along with the people who stock the shelves and the truckers who bring the supplies. All of them and so many others, too, really come to the front in the time of trouble.

    We, in East Grand Forks, saw how people came to our aid during the flood of 1997. Not only did our neighbors, friends and relatives answer the call but so did so many others. We had no idea of who many of them were or where they came from but they came to help… to fill and place sandbags, help with evacuations and even help with clean-up. They came from all over the region, the state and the country.

    Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are again doing whatever needs to be done.

    The people who made up the Greatest Generation, those who fought in and otherwise experienced the world wars, and others who went through previous health pandemics and other crises all showed true character in their time.  

    When challenged, Americans have always responded.

    Maybe the COVID-19 pandemic will be looked at as this generation’s “world war” experience.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners