Superior’s City Council gave tentative approval to require city residents to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces on Monday, July 13.
The committee of the whole split 9-1 in favor of the resolution introduced by Councilor Esther Dalbec in response to the pandemic. Councilor Keith Kern voted against the measure.
The face covering requirement would only go into effect if approved by the council on Tuesday, July 21. If approved, face coverings would be required starting Monday, July 27 and would remain so until the council establishes an end date or rescinds the order. Councilors didn’t address how long the order would be in effect at the meeting Monday.
The resolution calls for people to wear a face covering in restaurants and taverns, unless actively eating or drinking; retail businesses; gyms and fitness centers; sports facilities; entertainment venues; and on public transportation.
Exemptions would be made for children 5 years old and younger; for those unable to wear a face covering for legitimate medical, disability, developmental or psychological reasons; and for people who are addressing the hearing impaired or an audience at least 6 feet away. Participants in sports or performances would also be exempt during practice, the performance or competition. People would be able remove their face covering temporarily for identification purposes.
Dalbec, who has been in quarantine for months, said she puts on a mask when she’s outside if a neighbor comes out.
“What is so hard about wearing a mask?” Dalbec asked. “It’s not confining. It’s not hard to do. It’s going to prevent this disease from spreading so we can get on with our lives … we have to be responsible people.”
Several councilors, including Kern, Brent Fennessey and Craig Sutherland, expressed concern about the impact the resolution would have on businesses, particularly those that fail to enforce the order and rely on a city license to operate.
Business owners who don't enforce the order could have that taken into consideration when licenses come up for review or if they seek economic incentives from the city for up to a year after the order expires.
“I don’t think it’s fair or equitable for a small percentage of our businesses — bars and restaurants, or taxi cabs … that we have this separate penalty,” Fennessey said.
Sutherland put forward an amendment that would have made the resolution apply only to “front-end employees” — those who deal with the public — and that would have removed the threat to city licenses.
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said she opposed removing the licensure language after several bars closed following a resurgence of the coronavirus in the community. Liquor licenses account for the largest number of licenses issued by the city.
“Extending the pandemic is bad for business, not face coverings,” Van Sickle said. “We tried a looser approach. It didn’t go well.”
Since June 25, the number of positive tests for COVID-19 in Douglas County has more than tripled. The number of cases was at 63 on Monday, up from 20 during the three weeks prior to June 25.
The council split 5-5 to defeat the proposed amendment to resolution. Councilors Warren Bender, Jack Sweeney, Fennessey, Sutherland and Kern favored the changes. Councilors Elm, Ruth Ludwig, Dalbec, Nicholas Ledin and Van Sickle defeated the amendment.
Sutherland said while he supports the use of masks in public, he couldn’t support the resolution as written. Still, he voted in favor of sending it to the council.
The city has "an opportunity to be proactive," said Elm. However, he questioned “gray areas” such as requiring employees to wear masks at a call center that isn’t open to the public.
The order doesn’t cover private spaces within a business, such as a storage area for employees only, said Mayor Jim Paine.
Fennessey suggested the city create a sign that business owners could use to explain the order and take the onus off themselves. The council voted unanimously to accept the proposal.
Some businesses like Menards and Super One already require people to wear masks, Bender said, and a number of businesses he visited in West St. Paul recently required them.
Elm said no matter what the council decides, they won't be able to please everyone.
“We’re certainly fighting something that’s unknown and no adult that’s living knows how to deal with,” Elm said. “Unfortunately, other levels of government above us haven’t exactly helped us … Regardless of the direction we go, 50% are going to be upset; 50% are going to be satisfied with the situation.”
Emails sent to the City Council prior to Monday's meeting leaned against the mandate, with 22 in favor of masks in public and 25 opposed. Two others recommended forgoing the requirement for business spaces not open to the public.
The council will consider the resolution for adoption when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 21 in the Government Center. Because of the pandemic, public comment hasn’t been allowed at meetings but is accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paine said he anticipates additional amendments to the resolution before the council votes on it.