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Cloquet implements mask mandate

With local health care leaders asking for help and a Mayo Clinic data scientist predicting a peak in Omicron Covid cases in the next two weeks, Mayor Roger Maki declared a local emergency due to the pandemic effective Wednesday. As part of that declaration, he mandated that face coverings be worn in all indoor public gathering spaces in the city of Cloquet.

"We can reduce exposure of people and I believe that to be in the public interest and safety," Maki said.

Fond du Lac medical director Dr. Charity Reynolds and Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer both recommended the city adopt a mask mandate - as masks help slow the spread of Covid by respiratory droplets - while the Covid-19 omicron variant is "spreading like wildfire," Reynolds said.

"The medical community continues to be overwhelmed, people continue to die unnecessarily," Reynolds wrote to the council. "We can't stop Covid-19 but we can slow it down enough to give people the care they need."

Breuer acknowledged that the typical Omicron case is less severe than previous Covid variants, but said the sheer number of cases continues to take a toll on the healthcare system's capacity to treat those requiring care.

"In addition, this continued high level of activity consumes our capacity, making it more difficult to find timely placement and treatment options for those with urgent healthcare needs completely unrelated to Covid-19," he said.

Ward 1 councilor Bun Carlson said he would prefer a mask mandate only for government buildings - masks are already required in county buildings - citing the public's confusion over Covid and what masks work best.

Maki said a mask mandate would cause less confusion, because everyone would be required to wear one. The mayor stressed that he was not closing any businesses, just trying to slow the spread of the very infectious Covid variant, which has already peaked in some other parts of the country.

"I don't think 30 days is too much to ask when we anticipate that there is a peak coming, and it will decline and we have the opportunity to revisit it in a month," at-large councilor Lara Wilkinson said.

Cloquet's emergency mandate was enacted four days after Duluth mayor Emily Larson declared a 30-day mask mandate effective Jan. 14. ​​On Jan. 12, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul said their cities will temporarily require proof of vaccination or recent negative Covid test to enter places serving food and drink, as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the region. Masks were already required in St. Paul and Ramsey County.

Maki's emergency declaration would have been effective for three days only, but the Cloquet City Council voted 4-2 to extend it to Feb. 18. As part of the declaration, the council also moved all city meetings council and commission meetings from in-person to remote until further notice.

"I feel the mask mandate supports our school system, our hospital, our fire department ... [which] is having so many more calls right now. It supports local businesses: staffing issues are everywhere," said Ward 2 councilor Sheila Lamb, referencing a recent email from the Cloquet school district warning that a switch to remote learning is possible because of increased staffing shortages, many from Covid-related illnesses. "And it's just the right thing to do in a very overburdened health care system," she said.

Cloquet resident Carol Chalberg spoke in favor of the mask mandate, but doesn't like the idea of virtual council meetings. "But I think when you people can't come in here and hold your meeting wearing a mask and sitting 6 feet apart, you set a poor example for the working class," Chalberg told the council.

Northeastern Hotel and Saloon owner Bert Whittington called a mask mandate "a kiss of death" for businesses like his. Whittington said he is double-vaccinated and boostered, but asked the council to reconsider and stated he would close for the duration of any mask mandate. Maki pointed out that people don't have to wear masks while they are eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar, just when they're moving about, but Whittington wasn't swayed.

Ward 4 councilor Kerry Kolodge said he didn't like the idea of a mask mandate, and he also didn't think the council should go to remote meetings if they were still requiring city employees to come in to work, which they are.

Kolodge and Carlson were the two votes against the mandate. Ward 3 councilor Chris Swanson wasn't in attendance: the high school teacher was at home in Covid quarantine.

The Cloquet City Council presumably will reconsider the emergency declaration at its Feb. 15 meeting.

In other matters Tuesday, the council and mayor:

• Appointed Douglas Wolf to the Cloquet Area Fire District board. Wolf is the president/CEO of Northwoods Credit Union and also a former volunteer firefighter on Long Island in New York.

• Ordered the demolition of a hazardous garage at 203 Avenue D at a bid cost of $6,300. The structure was affecting the stability of neighboring properties.

• Approved bids to the waterline extension to Lawrence Road, which will bring together two dead-end water lines and should help with pressure fluctuations in the system, city public works director Caleb Peterson said. Connecting the two lines will also increase fire flows and give the city more options if there are waterline breaks. Peterson was hopeful that the city would also be able to establish a tap for the Braun Park concession stand and eventually extend the line to Braun Park, the city's softball and baseball facility.

• Rescheduled the Feb. 1 council meeting to Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. because state caucuses are set for Feb. 1.


Cloquet mask mandate

In addition to requiring face coverings in all public places, the Cloquet declaration stated that:

-The mask mandate applies to local businesses, entertainment venues, public transportation, rental establishment public areas, places of worship, schools and other spaces of public accommodation;

-Face coverings cover both the nose and mouth and fit snugly along the sides of the face;

-The mandate doesn't apply to children under the age of 5, those who are medically unfit to wear masks, or people inside a private room or apartment in a rental facility such as a hotel or apartment building; however, masks should be worn in shared public spaces inside such buildings.

-Public spaces should post notices that face coverings are required.

-Businesses not open to the public don't have to mask, provided there is a minimum of 6 feet distance between employees. Other exceptions include businesses with written plans in compliance with state guidelines; people engaged in activities where it is not practical to wear masks, such as swimming or sports games; and first responders and police, when it isn't practical.

– Pine Knot News