The crowded scene inside Minneapolis' impound lot following Sunday's snow emergency has sparked concerns over the potential for COVID-19 transmission.
City resident Steve Bush was among the scores who had their vehicles towed after the city declared an emergency starting Sunday evening in response to the snow that fell Saturday.
Bush said he wasn't aware one had been declared and didn't expect one "after such a light snowfall," but his irritation grew to alarm when he arrived at the impound lot on Colfax Avenue North.
He sent several pictures showing other vehicle owners lining up to pay their fines, and while all were wearing face masks, they remained tightly packed into the service center.
He told BMTN that concern about COVID-19 has been sufficiently great that the state has shut down bars and restaurants and imposed limits on social gatherings during the past year, yet the city "unnecessarily forces hundreds of people to stand together for hours in a tight line and very small, tightly enclosed buildings in order to retrieve their cars."
"I witnessed many low-income people who are already struggling badly due to COVID who were hit with a $138 towing fee plus the traffic ticket for a total of nearly $200," he said.
"This was just an unnecessary, disrespectful, financially harmful, and highly hypocritical decision on the part of Minneapolis officials."
While face masks reduce the risk of transmission, health experts say there is a higher risk of COVID's spread when people are within six feet of each other for extended periods of time.
Bush argued that Minneapolis has not called snow emergencies for bigger snow events, and it's true that the city usually uses 4 inches of snowfall to trigger an emergency, with Minneapolis telling BMTN that 3.5 inches fell across the city on Saturday.
But the city said that recent accumulations of snow played a role in the decision to call the emergency.
"The past few weeks of accumulations without a Snow Emergency contributed to the decision that one was needed at this time," a spokesman said. "Typically, snowfalls of 4 inches or more will trigger a Snow Emergency, but accumulations alone are not the sole determining factor."
The city also said that even during COVID, it "needs to continue to provide valued public services" which includes its full snow plowing services, and also offers an alternative to going to the impound lot, with vehicle owners able to head to Ramp A in downtown Minneapolis, where a shuttle will take them to their impounded vehicles.
"Both Ramp A and the Impound Lot have appropriate signage, public hand sanitizers and floor markings to help with social distancing. Masks are required and available at both locations," the city said.
The city did suspend towing during the Stay at Home order this past spring, but with the governor having lifted Stay at Home restrictions, the city similarly resumed its towing operations.
"If that should change we would work under whatever State guidance was dictated," the spokesman added.