St. Cloud City Council rejects three-week mask mandate amid omicron surge
Jan 25, 2022
Cloud City Council rejects three-week mask mandate amid omicron surge
Meanwhile a federal strike team that has helped at St. Cloud Hospital for the past two months will leave Friday. January 25, 2022 — 8:55am
ST. CLOUD — An emergency three-week ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings inside public spaces in St. Cloud failed Monday night during a tense meeting where the presiding council member had to slam his gavel a handful of times to silence some of the few dozen onlookers interrupting the discussion. The emergency ordinance required approval by five of the seven members of St. Cloud City Council; it failed on a 4-2 vote with Council President Jeff Goerger absent. "Our medical community is asking for our help and I think it's incumbent upon us to help them out," said Carol Lewis, who asked the mandate discussion be put on the agenda. "We need to do better." Council members Mike Conway and Paul Brandmire voted against the mandate, which came as a request by the area's largest health care system more than two weeks ago. "COVID had been dangerous to our population. No one denies that CentraCare is working hard. ... But the question before us tonight was about the wearing of masks to prevent spread," Brandmire said. "I have yet to see a reliable study which proves that masks have any impact whatsoever." Conway said a three-week mandate "isn't going to change anything." "The numbers are already starting to go down," he said. Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 model is predicting the state's latest wave of coronavirus infections will peak this week and then rapidly decline. But health leaders, including Dr. George Morris of CentraCare, have stressed hospitalizations and deaths can continue to increase for a few weeks after the peak. People from both sides of the issue attended the meeting, including a group of mask supporters, some of whom signed an online petition asking city leaders to stand with CentraCare. When council members Dave Masters, George Hontos and Steve Laraway talked about why they supported a mask mandate, they were frequently interrupted by onlookers against such a measure. At one point, the council called a short recess because of the interruptions, and a few attendees were asked to leave. In a virtual meeting on Jan. 7, CentraCare leaders asked mayors and other area leaders to implement citywide mask mandates to help reduce strain on the already strained health care system. The mayors of St. Cloud and the neighboring cities of Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park didn't support mandates but did sign a joint letter encouraging residents to wear masks indoors. Hontos said Monday he feels the mayors "basically turned their back" on CentraCare and let personal and political feelings get in the way. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis retorted it "takes far more courage to say no than it does to say yes." "I do not question the ask that was given. I wear a mask. I've been vaccinated and I've been boosted," he said. "But I do not believe ... that is the role of a city." Kleis said even if he had declared an emergency and implemented a mask mandate, the council still would have had to approve it for it to extend beyond 72 hours. "To do legislation is not in the hands of one person," Kleis said. "The government was not set up to give power and authority but to limit power and authority." Federal strike team leaves Friday
The 23-member federal strike team that arrived at St. Cloud Hospital in late November is scheduled to leave on Friday, according to Kathy Parsons, vice president of population health for CentraCare. The team came at the request of Gov. Tim Walz, who in mid-November announced CentraCare and HCMC in Minneapolis would receive emergency medical workers from the Department of Defense. The team's stay was extended 30 days in mid-December but a second extension request was denied, Parsons said. "We were told right from the beginning, it was really rare to get that second [extension]," she said. "But we are extremely grateful for all the care they've provided. We know they provided about 7,400 clinical hours of care. That's a very big deal. That impacts our patients, our staff and our overall community." Parsons said the strike team not only helped the exhausted staff care for patients but it boosted morale and gave the organization some breathing room to shore up staffing with new hires and more temporary traveling providers. "It bought us time to do what we couldn't do in really short order but we've been able to add to our staff during these 60 days," Parsons said. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties have seen nearly 80,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as vaccinations continue to lag statewide averages. The area's death toll is 649.