The Carlton County Board of Commissioners were receptive to the idea of a mask mandate for county employees and county buildings, but wanted a clear policy before voting on the issue at their Tuesday, Oct. 12, meeting.
Elected officials will hear a full proposal during the board's committee of the whole meeting at 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18. The board would subsequently vote on the issue a week later.
“Nobody wants to (wear masks), but it's a small price to pay to keep people healthy,” said District 2 Commissioner Marv Bodie.
The idea of a mandate was brought to the board by Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau, who received comments from county staff asking for a mandate to be in place.
“We’ve had multiple staff bring this issue to our attention,” he said. “At this point and time, we are in a substantial risk of transmission.”
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Genereau said the employees who brought their concerns to him would like a policy that goes beyond the current recommendation to wear a mask.
Dave Lee, director of public health and human services, said he would recommend a mask policy while the county is in a high transmission phase for the coronavirus.
“A year ago we had 65 cases (in the last two weeks), this year we have 273,” he said. “I think we can be a little more proactive in times when we are putting people at risk”
Lee added that 82 of the cases include people under the age of 19, and a lot more children are testing positive for the virus.
In November, Lee said he expects to see a positive change as 5- to 11-year-olds will be able to get vaccinated.
The meeting was attended by members of Carlton County departments who ranged in their support for a mask mandate.
A few employees said they would not support a mandate, but would follow what the board suggests. Carlton County Assessor Kyle Holmes said he would want each department to have their own say.
"We attempt to be very diligent about social distancing — we got plexiglass everywhere," he said. "Nobody in my office likes to wear a mask."
Carlton County Recorder Kristine Basilici called into the meeting. She said she would support a mandate, and people in her department are already wearing masks when inside.
“It would be nice to have something that follows the science and follows across all county buildings and employees,” she said.
The commissioners did not think leaving it up to each department would be the most beneficial route.
“If we are going to do it, we need to be consistent,” said District 3 Commissioner Tom Proulx.
Although a detailed plan was not presented at the meeting, commissioners asked that a few items be included for Monday’s meeting. They include: masks not being required if employees are alone in their office or can adequately socially distance; masks not being required when outside on county property; and exceptions for those who medically are unable to wear masks.
Sheriff Kelly Lake reminded the board that they should not forget the enforcement aspect of a possible mandate.
“I will not be directing my deputies to go hands-on with people if they are not going to put on a mask,” she said.
The board directed county staff to develop a plan that had an end date dependent on either time or current cases and transmission level.
Genereau said the plan will be finalized for the board on Monday and would likely be something between what the county currently recommends and St. Louis County's current mask requirement for county employees.