Facing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in the city and county, the Golden Valley City Council unanimously declared a local emergency at its Jan. 11 special meeting. The statement, first issued by Mayor Shep Harris for a three-day period and then approved by the entire council to extend until further notice, included a mandate to wear masks in indoor public areas.
Absent from the meeting was Councilor Gillian Rosenquist, who was ill due to suspected exposure to COVID-19. Rosenquist later called to express her support for the measure as a resident of the city during a citizen feedback period.
The mask mandate went into effect on the evening of Jan. 13 and will continue until the emergency is amended or ended by the Golden Valley City Council, or lifted by another government agency.
The statement was issued in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 as it increases in the city and county.
According to data from Hennepin County, the number of positive cases has risen in the city since July 2021, with 103.4 cases reported per 10,000 people in a 14-day period ending December 27. The data does not take into account positive cases confirmed by at-home testing. The next dataset is expected to be released by the county on January 13.
City attorney Maria Cisneros reported that Hennepin County officials recommended that the local state of emergency remain in effect until the number drops to 50 positive cases per 10,000 people. She said Golden Valley was last in that threshold at the end of September.
The public, the council talks about mask mandate
City residents attended the meeting and called for a combination of support and reservation to be offered to the mask mandate. Some told the Golden Valley City Council they would not comply with the mandate over concerns that masking was divisive in public spaces and causing physiological changes in the body. A caller dismissed those claims as “pseudoscience” and asked the municipality to follow guidelines from public health officials.
Mayor Harris agreed that following a mandate was “not easy” and that the science behind masking was “not perfect,” but said he believed the sooner the mandate was in place, “the sooner we’ll be better off.” are”. He urged the public to mask and get vaccinated to reduce the impact on an overburdened health care system.
Councilor Denise La Mere-Anderson said she was “very torn” over her decision to back the mandate, fearing it would be difficult to enforce the mandate as the speakers who informed the council said they would would not respect the mandate.
“A mandate will not change their behavior,” she said. “If there’s a subset of people who think that way, is a mandate really going to move the needle for us, and how much extra burden will it put on our system?”
Councilor Kimberly Sanberg said she shared the same concerns as La Mere-Anderson, but recalled a recent experience at a restaurant where two unmasked individuals put on masks without incident after being asked.
“There are people who will combatively refuse to wear a mask no matter what — those people certainly exist — but there are also people who won’t wear a mask unless they have to wear a mask unless they’re asked,” Sanberg said. She expected the mandate to help prevent staff shortages, which she said would worsen in several areas in the coming weeks.
Councilor Maurice Harris said he supported the mandate as a means to “bring back the health care system to some sort of functionality” and help the city and its businesses operate safely. He expressed his understanding for the public outcry at the ongoing pandemic, but did not believe it was a reason to refuse the mandate.
“We may be done with COVID, but COVID is not done with us,” he said.
Expectations and enforcement
Under the mandate, masks are mandatory for people in indoor public areas such as a business, facility or institution, regardless of vaccination status. Those who cannot medically tolerate a mask, or are two years or younger, are not required to wear a mask. Other exceptions include athletes, performers, and support staff who actively participate or perform.
Acceptable mask types are N95 KN95, surgical or cloth face coverings that cover the mouth and nose.
Enforcement is expected to proceed in the same way as the previous mandate. Interim Police Chief Scott Nadeau told the council that the department had prioritized sending letters to owners of establishments who had not adhered to the mandate. Nadeau said the department could meet additional requirements set forth by the Golden Valley City Council, such as responding to complaints from unmasked individuals, but warned it could challenge “limited resources” in the department and further escalate situations. . The Golden Valley City Council has chosen not to add requirements.
Relaxation of city meeting requirements
The statement will also provide more flexibility for board and committee members to attend meetings remotely. Without the emergency declaration, members could participate remotely, but had to be physically in a separate, public place and had to disclose where they were during the meeting.
Last week, due to COVID-19 exposure, Rosenquist virtually took her oath of office, from an empty room in City Hall. She confirmed to the municipality during her January 11 appeal that she now had symptoms of COVID-19 and that three of her children had tested positive.
Because of these requirements without an emergency declaration, the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Commission has been unable to establish a quorum since mid-November. If other commissions had similar problems like the Golden Valley Planning Commission. Cisneros believed that legal problems could arise.
This is the second time Golden Valley has passed a mask mandate, but the first time it will actually come into effect. The first mandate was passed in July 2020, but was replaced the next day by an executive order from Governor Tim Walz.
The last local emergency in the city lasted from March 16, 2020 to July 1, 2021.
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