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Council considers public mask policy for city buildings

Visitors to Minot City Hall and other city-owned buildings aren’t being required to mask up just yet, but city council members are considering a policy.

The council tabled a motion Monday that would have required visitors to wear masks. It gives members more time to determine what a policy should look like. Although no penalties would be involved and unmasked visitors simply would be required to leave, the council ran into other enforcement issues when dealing with large buildings with multiple entrances, such as the airport terminal.

The city library already requires masks. The policy being contemplated to limit the spread of COVID-19 would primarily affect City Hall, the Public Works Building and airport terminal.

“Given the numbers and given the trend that we are on, it does look like a reasonable step,” said Mayor Shaun Sipma, who raised the matter of a public mask policy. City employees already are required to wear masks when social distancing can’t be maintained.

The council’s discussion came after hearing from First District Health Unit Executive Director Lisa Clute earlier in the meeting. Clute noted the trend of higher numbers of positive tests for the virus, suggesting the governor could move Ward County further down the color chart, used to determine the level of restrictions warranted.

“I think if we go to that higher level of alert, I would very much want to see us restrict access to our buildings on the part of members of the public only if they wear a mask and have handwashing facilities available. This is the minimum we can do to protect our employees,” council member Stephan Podrygula said. “It would be a good message to send that this is serious, and we want to take personal responsibility.”

Council member Lisa Olson said she wants to keep business, schools and facilities open.

“I think that the trajectory that we are on shows that some of those doors aren’t going to stay open if we’re not masking. So, if masking is the step that we need to take to keep everything open, then I certainly support it,” she said.

Council member Carrie Evans moved to impose a mask requirement immediately, noting she has confidence in the community members that they will want to be part of keeping employees safe.

Council member Paul Pitner said he would feel more comfortable reviewing the matter and getting input from the public.

“I don’t know if I could support a mask mandate for all city-owned and operated buildings this evening. I think there’s a lot of questions that we just don’t have the answers to, and we’re kind of winging it a little bit,” he said.

The council voted 6-1 to table, with Evans dissenting.

Ward County has 237 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, Clute reported. Most of those cases are within Minot, she said.

“No one can predict where this goes. But if these trend lines keep going, that would be concerning. And then maybe some difficult decisions do need to be made,” she said.

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