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Minot City Council pushes mask mandate reconsideration to February

Council pushes mask reconsideration to February

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot City Council member Paul Pitner argues against a mask mandate at Tuesday’s meeting.

Minot’s citywide mask mandate will remain in place for at least another month. The Minot City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to reconsider the mandate Feb. 16.

Mayor Shaun Sipma had recommended keeping the mandate for another month to allow more time for at-risk residents aged 65 and older to become vaccinated against COVID-19. The infection rate also should be a consideration when the mandate is reviewed in February, he said.

The council adopted the plan, with dissent from council members Paul Pitner and Tom Ross, who had opposed the original mandate.

“We put this on the back of small business for way too long. What we don’t realize and what we have yet to realize is the stress – the mental stress – this puts on the family that owns a small business in this community. Millions of dollars are lost,” Ross said. “It’s time to take personal responsibility. Let’s put it in the hands of the people. Let’s respect the small businesses that have their own mask mandates.”

Pitner called the mandate a mask recommendation because it carries no penalty for noncompliance.

Jill Schramm/MDN Jimmy VanHuss addresses the Minot City Council Tuesday as one of three residents who spoke out against continuing a citywide mask mandate.

“This is posturing and it’s pandering to try to make people feel protected when really not doing anything because people aren’t wearing the masks when they are asked to, half the time,” Pitner said. “What’s exhausting is how politicized this has become.”

The council also heard from a few residents opposed to the mandate.

Tiffany Fettig of Minot spoke of the challenges her family faces with a child who medically cannot wear a mask.

“From our experience, that’s been anything but easy,” Fettig said, citing the mask shaming that occurs against those who do not wear masks. “There are many others like this in our community. I’m also here to communicate that now that we know more about COVID, we must stop the madness.”

She noted only 0.16% of the state’s population was listed as actively having COVID-19 in Tuesday’s numbers. The state’s death rate from COVID-19 is about 1.4%, or 0.18% of the population.

“If people think masks protect them, can’t people choose to wear a mask even though there’s not a mandate? Do the benefits of the mask mandate outweigh all the other things that come with the mandate, including the shaming, the bullying, the anxiety and more?” Fettig asked.

Jimmy VanHuss of Minot, who formerly worked in bio-environmental engineering while in the Air Force, said his background in mitigating environmental hazards and knowledge of personal protective equipment tells him that masks are not effective against viruses.

“Never in my role in the Air Force would I ever recommend a cloth mask or even a surgical mask, for that matter, for protection or for mitigation,” he said. “When you are talking about viruses and bacteria, you are talking about very fine particle size, and that mask has absolutely no effect.”

Telling people to wear masks is irresponsible and reckless, he said.

“It gives people a false sense of security. People that may not need to go out are going to be going out now,” he said.

Council member Lisa Olson acknowledged the passion on both sides of the mask issue.

“But I think we also have to acknowledge the fact that when people were wearing masks, our numbers declined, and I guess you could argue those statistics whichever way you want, but I see it as a success,” Olson said.

Ross said South Dakota, which hasn’t had a mask mandate, has an experience with COVID-19 that is similar to North Dakota’s experience with a mask mandate.

Minot’s mask mandates allows for some exemptions, including persons younger than school age, with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, participating in certain athletic activities, consuming food or drink, engaging in religious worship activities and giving a speech or performance. Addressing backlash against those who can’t wear masks, Sipma suggested the community consider developing identification buttons to denote a medical exemption – a strategy used in another North Dakota city.

In her regular COVID-19 update to the council, Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, said vaccination of people ages 65 and older with two or more serious health conditions isn’t likely to begin for another three weeks. The health unit currently is vaccinating individuals aged 75 and older.

Ward County has 27 provider locations, including pharmacies, that have enrolled to provide vaccinations, although not all have vaccines to distribute at this time. Some providers who have doses are contacting their patients who are in the current eligibility tier.

There had been 3,572 doses given in Ward County as of Tuesday. Clute said the goal is to vaccinate at least 70% of the population, and currently the county is at about 5.3%.

“What we have seen is the demand for the vaccine is extremely high. As fast as we open up these doses, they are making the appointments,” Clute said. She said the number of calls can overwhelm the phone operators at times so people should continue calling back. All the doses expected to arrive next week are spoken for, and First District is waiting on more information regarding further vaccine rollout.

Clute said mass vaccination programs for eligible tier groups could take place in a few weeks. However, she explained mass vaccination has space challenges because of the need for social distancing and the required 15-minute observation time in case of allergic reaction after vaccination. First District has encountered only one instance of an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

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