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City plans to lift in-house mask requirements

Jill Schramm/MDN Jeff Geinert looks over materials in Minot Public Library Tuesday. Masks are required in city buildings, including the library.

COVID-19 restrictions will be easing in Minot city buildings but not until mid-May.

The Minot City Council voted unanimously Monday to lift mask requirements in city buildings and end specific COVID-19 leave for city employees on May 15. The May date is to give staff time to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Part of the reason I’m willing to support this motion is that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” council member Stephan Podrygula said. “As a political compromise, I’m willing to end the mask policies, but I’m willing to do that under a couple of conditions internally, personally for me. The first is that people continue taking this seriously and then we strongly recommend the staff and visitors that they continue to wear masks for the foreseeable future.”

The council adopted a policy requiring city employees to wear masks or face coverings at work last August. It adopted a resolution requiring visitors in city buildings to wear masks in October. The council modified the requirements in February to make exceptions for cases in which physical barriers and social distancing apply. Masks remain required in all situations for the library, police and fire stations, airport and city buses. Even once the city policy ends in May, a presidential order on masks will apply to federally funded facilities such as the airport and city buses.

The decision to eliminate designated employee leave for COVID-related reasons generated more council discussion.

Podrygula proposed retaining the extra benefits, put in place in March 2020, until October. He reported about $5,000 has been spent in the past month on COVID-19 leave.

“Our employees are vital personnel, and I want to make sure that none of them has to suffer for being out in the field and incurring any risks. The costs are likely to minimal,” he said.

Council member Lisa Olson opposed continuing the leave, noting many organizations ended their employee leave benefit at the end of 2020 when federal support ceased.

“I do feel we have been very generous thus far,” she said.

The paid leave is granted to employees who are sick with COVID-19 or awaiting test results while sick; in quarantine due to exposure or health conditions that require them to avoid public exposure; caring for a dependent who is sick or in quarantine; caring for children due to daycare or school closures due to COVID-19; or have been sent home from work for COVID-19 reasons.

City Manager Harold Stewart said he received no negative feedback from employees after giving notice of the proposed change. Employees still will have traditional sick leave.

In her regular report to the council, Lisa Clute, executive director at First District Health Unit, said two COVID-19 variants are circulating in the area. Higher test numbers are coming back from the eastern part of the state, and it is mostly cases in children and young adults, she said.

As of Monday, 36.6% of Ward County’s population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, she reported. Within First District’s seven-county area, that percentage is 38%.

That amounts to 27,752 doses in Ward County. Within First District’s region, there have been 42,395 doses. These numbers exclude Minot Air Force Base, which has a separate vaccination system.

Breaking it down further, Clute provided the following: ages 75 and older, 2,959 fully vaccinated individuals, 71.6%; 65 to 74, 3,326 vaccinated, 68.1%; and 18 to 64, 9,987 vaccinated, 23.4%. This also excludes the air base numbers.

“We continue getting vaccine in. It’s no problem, and we have it available for anybody that wants vaccine now. You can utilize your providers or First District or pharmacies,” Clute said. First District has begun adding single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the doses available and will be offering that vaccine next week.

“We continue to promote and make clinics available on our website, social media, as many places as we can get the information out,” Clute said. “We have also been working with providers and we are hearing the same from everybody. Right now, we are typically receiving more vaccine than we have people wanting vaccine.”

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