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Cloquet approves 30-day mask mandate

The mandate will be in effect in all indoor public spaces with exceptions for those eating or actively playing sports.

Cloquet City Hall Winter.jpg
Cloquet City Hall (Jamey Malcomb / 2021 file / Pine Journal)
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CLOQUET —The Cloquet City Council approved a mask mandate for the city Tuesday, Jan. 18.

The mandate is effective immediately and will last 30 days before it is reviewed.

Mayor Roger Maki brought the proposal to the council and believed it was prudent to address the rise of COVID-19 cases along with the newest variant of the virus.

“We know we aren’t going to get 100% compliance … but I do believe we will see a significant improvement,” he said.

Maki cited local hospitals asking for a mandate as they deal with the current wave of cases, and the Mayo Clinic expecting a peak in cases in the next week.

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“(They) stress that this is a good time right now, it is probably the time to try and stop this,” he said. “I believe that to be in the public interest and safety.”

Procedurally, the mandate was issued through a mayor’s proclamation of local emergency that lasts three days, but the council voted 4-2 to extend the mandate for 30 days.

Councilors Warren "Bun" Carlson and Kerry Kolodge voted against the mandate and Councilor Chris Swanson was absent.

With openings on multiple civilian boards in Cloquet, the Cloquet City Council has asked for residents interested in public service to reach out to the city.

Kolodge said he is against a mandate and believes that people should have the option to wear a mask if they would like to.

“I’m against a government mandate to make them do that,” he said.

Councilor Lara Wilkinson agreed with Maki, and said because of the expected peak in cases to come soon the council should try and help local hospitals.

“I think when we have our local medical institutions asking us to do this, and we are seeing this huge influx of cases bombarding our health care facilities, anything that we can do to support them and their efforts to treat people for COVID or other conditions is something we should be doing,” she said.

Wilkinson added there is confusing information out there on variants and which type of mask is best, but the city should take the lead from medical professionals.

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Bert Whittington, owner of the Northeastern Saloon and Grille in Cloquet, said if the council passed a mask mandate he would just close his business for the duration of it, as he has previously done.

“From my perspective as a business owner that primarily is a bar and hotel, a mask mandate is the kiss of death,” he said.

The mandate will include all public gatherings and will only have exceptions for those under 5 years old; for when people are actively eating; when they are involved in a sporting activity; or if someone is unable to wear a face covering due to a medical reason.

Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet has been feeling the trickle-down impacts of nurse shortages at hospitals across the state. In the Northland, there are more job openings for nurses than there were before the pandemic, causing hospital beds to remain unstaffed and unable to admit critical patients.

The proclamation also includes holding city council meetings virtually for 30 days, which means the next two meetings will be online.

Maki said holding meetings online is another aspect to combating the spread of the virus and keeping people healthy.

“The city functioned well when we had virtual meetings before,” he said. “It is less than ideal, but we can certainly take care of business.”

While the council meetings will be held virtually, city staff will still be required to work from City Hall, something Kolodge came out against.

“I have a fundamental problem with us having our meetings remotely and having our staff come in and work,” he said. “That doesn’t settle with me at all.”

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Carol Chalberg, a Cloquet resident, voiced her concerns with the council moving to remote meetings for the next 30 days.

“I think you don’t set a good example for the people that elected you,” she said.

The broadband survey is intended to find out what the needs of Cloquet residents are when it comes to broadband service, and allow for the broadband committee to plan for the future.

Chalberg was in favor of a mask mandate, but felt the council should still be able to hold its meetings in person while masked.

In other business, the council approved an appointment to its vacancy on the Cloquet Area Fire District Board. Douglas Wolf, president of Northwoods Credit Union, will fill the position.

“I wanted to get a little more involved in the community and wanted to do some public service,” Wolf said.

Wolf has been in Cloquet for three years, but previously volunteered when he lived in Baxter, Minnesota, on its utilities board and as a volunteer firefighter when he lived in Long Island, New York.

Maki thanked Wolf for stepping up and volunteering for the position.

“I think you have an excellent background for this particular position,” he said.

Related Topics: CLOQUETCLOQUET CITY COUNCIL
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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