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Minot City Council directs mayor to declare mask mandate

City council urges mayor to take declare mandate

Jill Schramm/MDN Artmain’s Chris Piehl, Eli Kjelson, Beth Kjelson and Tammy Forman wear masks and ask their customers to do the same. The downtown store has required masks for some time and welcomes having the backing of a city mask mandate for enforcement.

Although it provides for no enforcement, a mask mandate approved by the Minot City Council Monday reflected the desire to send a stronger message to the community about reducing the county’s COVID-19 numbers.

The council voted 5-2 to direct Mayor Shaun Sipma to issue a declaration mandating masks in all indoor or outdoor environments where they are exposed to non-household members and where social distancing of six feet or more cannot be maintained.

Sipma was on board with the motion despite a reluctance to impose a mandate and questions about whether a mandate without teeth will be impactful enough. He said he is put in this position because COVID-19 cases have ballooned and need to be slowed.

“Do we want to be back to shutdowns if it does get so widespread?” he said. “We can’t handle that. That would be a detriment to a lot of businesses in town.”

Artmain owner Beth Kjelson on Tuesday said she welcomes the backing of a city mandate in the store’s efforts to enforce its long-standing mask mandate.

“I am grateful for the city to have taken a stance,” she said.

Council member Carrie Evans offered the motion to direct the mayor to exercise his emergency powers and impose a penalty-free mask mandate similar to one created by Fargo’s mayor Monday.

“This is moral leadership on our part,” Evans said. “Our numbers are record-breaking every day. It is embarrassing as an elected official to be sitting and not doing anything about this.”

“It does send the message that we are asking the community to get serious about trying to slow down this virus,” council member Mark Jantzer added.

The declaration, effective immediately, includes exceptions for:

– Individuals younger than school aged.

– While actively eating or drinking.

– Performing a job that is inhibited by the use of masks and cannot maintain a six foot distance.

– Driving with people from your household or alone.

– Competing in athletic activities where a six foot distance is not achievable, and a mask inhibits the activity.

– Receiving services that require access to the face for security, surveillance or other purposes. Individuals may temporarily remove a face covering while receiving those services.

– Engaging in religious worship activities; however, face coverings are strongly encouraged.

– Giving a speech or performance for broadcast or to an audience; however, those persons shall safely distance from nearby individuals.

Council member Lisa Olson said she supports a mandate that enables businesses and schools to stay open by slowing the spread of the virus.

“We’re sending a strong recommendation, but we’re still giving business owners the freedom to say, ‘You don’t like masks? you can come and shop in my store.’ So I think that there is just enough freedom within that, that I feel comfortable voting to approve this,” Olson said.

Council member Stephan Podrygula agreed the mandate presented is reasonable in respecting personal liberty but sending a message that the pandemic needs to be taken seriously.

Votes against the mask mandate came from council members Tom Ross and Paul Pitner.

Pitner voiced concern about putting mandates on businesses, especially toothless ones.

“I’m not a fan of mandating something that really is just words,” he said. “If we want to make a strong communitywide recommendation to wear masks, I could support that, but I think it’s a slippery slope of mandating things in our community and mandating things to businesses.”

“The people I’ve talked to and the people I listen to are tired of the fear, are tired of the anxiety,” said Ross, the only council member not wearing a mask at the meeting. Not every study shows that masks work, he said.

“I’ll respect the wishes of any business that puts their own mandate out there,” Ross said. But he added, “If we’re going to slow the spread, we’re going to affect businesses. We’re going to affect revenue. We’re going to affect so much if we slow the spread. We don’t need to slow the spread. We need to have health organizations throw spaghetti noodles at the wall for a cure and a treatment until one sticks.”

“Our intent has never been to create fear,” responded Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, who weighed in remotely. “Our intent is to provide you the facts.”

She explained that to reach community immunity, 60-70% of the community would need to become infected, and even at a small death rate, the numbers of deaths in that scenario are high.

“I certainly understand the politics of masks. It saddens me tremendously. It’s an excellent tool that we have in our public health resources to help slow the spread,” Clute said.

“I also want people to be reminded that masks are not the only tool that we have to prevent the spread. That seems to be what everybody has latched on to, but I hope everybody is carrying hand sanitizers; they are washing their hands. If you social distance, you keep your distance away from people,” she said. “People have got to stay home when they are sick, and that is a huge problem.”

Clute noted almost 40% of the 520 active cases as of Monday in Ward County came in the last two weeks. The majority of cases are in Minot.

Cases are most prevalent among 20- to 29-year-olds, but the next highest group is the 80-plus category, Clute said. In Minot, there were 88 COVID-positive residents in long-term care and 37 positive cases among long-term care staff on Monday.

“They have done an outstanding job trying to keep these long-term care facilities going. They have a very aggressive testing program, and they will be moving rapid tests into long-term care facilities, possibly even this week,” Clute said. ” I do not anticipate that there will be rapid tests available for the general public anytime soon.”

According to the governor’s health metrics that look at the number of active cases per 10,000 population, Ward County is at 48.5. Anything over 40 is considered a critical risk, Clute said. The test positivity rate over the past 14 days is 11.1%, which is considered high risk but not critical. The county’s testing rate remains high, though, which factors into any decision made by the governor in establishing a county’s overall risk level.

Clute also mentioned a backlog of testing at the State Laboratory, and a backlog of up to 1,300 close contacts yet to be assigned to tracers, with 800 contacts waiting to be inputted into the software system.

First District Health Unit has been testing about 130 people a day, four days a week, at its static site and twice a week at Minot State University. The general public is invited to MSU testings because typically there are extra kits available, and the laboratory processing those tests has had a quicker turnaround time than the state lab.

Clute said Trinity Health commonly runs 25 to about 35 patients in its COVID-19 wing and also is sending a physician to care for residents at Somerset Court, which has seen 75 residents test positive. She commended the state’s hospitals for taking on the financial hardship associated with treating COVID-19 patients while working together to ensure care for all patients.

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