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Baxter City Council encouraged to consider face mask order

Council members weigh in on a face mask policy in a tourism and retail area that accounts for 13% of the county population.

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Gerry Cornish (left), Evan Cornish, Gavin Cornish and TJ Cornish wear their masks while shopping Wednesday, July 8, in downtown Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

After a conversation with a concerned person about activity related to wearing face masks, Mayor Darrel Olson said he would bring the topic to the full council.

The caller encouraged Olson to issue an executive order for people to wear face masks when in the city. Tuesday, July 7, as the council met on Zoom, Olson said he explained to the caller he was a vote with a gavel and the council does everything as a group.

The mayor has the ability to issue an executive order that would be in effect for three days without council support.

Rochester and Mankato approved mandates for people to wear face masks when they are in public indoor settings. Minnesota Public Radio noted Rochester’s mandate went into effect Wednesday and applies to indoor restaurants and bar seating, gyms, public transportation and retail businesses. Winona joined the list of cities requiring face masks this week.

Brad Chapulis, city administrator, reported St. Cloud will discuss the issue July 20.

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“So there is a movement in taking local control in regards to public health, but it comes down to the council,” Chapulis said, adding one of the challenges is in enforcement, which is subjective and local police officers have other responsibilities.

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Baxter City Council meets with staff members via Zoom on Tuesday, July 7. Screenshot by Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

“We are only about 13% of the county population and we do not have a public health division or staff, which is where the leadership should come from in regards to enforcement of a masking policy,” Chapulis said.

Chapulis’ advice was to look to the county or the state to implement a masking policy. Chapulis contacted Brainerd and Crow Wing County administrators. Brainerd recently decided not to take any action, and the county indicated there was not a push or call for action at the county level. Chapulis said the county administration reported getting one to two calls a week from concerned residents.

Olson said he wasn’t selling anything one way or the other but made a commitment to bring the topic up before the council.

“It should be countywide and come from people who can deal with it,” Olson said.

Council member Todd Holman was in agreement with staff and the mayor.

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Holman said there is a lot of good science on effectiveness of masks but he said Brainerd and Baxter should be acting the same so there aren’t differences across city lines most people are not even aware of. Holman said he was in favor of waiting and seeing what the county and state does and maybe bringing the issue back. In a tourism area, having one town with one rule and another town with a different rule creates a struggle for people to understand when policies are all over the map.

Council member Zach Tabatt agreed with Holman in general, noting if just Baxter implements a policy, it would be of minimal real effect with the people coming and going. Tabatt said he was thrilled with the Lake Country Cares initiative and makes a point to wear their branded masks — marked by a flannel pattern in many colors with the Lake County Cares logo — in stores in the city.

“If people don’t want to be forced to wear them, by the state or the county or some entity larger than us probably, it would be wise to put up with the discomfort and short term minor inconvenience of wearing one just for the sake of trying to do our best as a community,” Tabatt said. “But I think, as of right now, keeping it voluntary at our level is probably the wisest thing.”

Tabatt said he encourages people to get on board with the Lake Country Cares program as a matter of pride in bringing people to the community safely as a major retail center for this part of the state, he said. “And as we mentioned earlier, the gateway for one of the nicest parts of probably the whole country, we want to keep that open and not put ourselves in a position where we end up being forced to be locked down again or have the state impose masks on us statewide.”

Council member Connie Lyscio agreed with what others said.

“I would hesitate to, especially, telling locally owned businesses what they have to have their patrons do,” Lyscio said. “I’m not comfortable with that at all. I think just respecting one another and if some businesses require, then you respectfully wear one or you don’t go there. I would rather take a wait and see approach, I guess, until we hear what is going to come from the county and the state.”

Council member Mark Cross said he agreed. “We need to be part of an overall solution and not an island in the middle of this,” Cross said.

Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said it would be a simpler route to follow an order from the governor with its statutory language.

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“It’s a lose, lose thing in a lot of people’s minds and so it’s a tough decision either way, but I appreciate you weighing in and being of one mind on this and so we’ll run with that for now and see what happens,” Olson said.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

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Baxter City Council meets with staff members via Zoom on Tuesday, July 7. Screenshot by Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSBAXTERHEALTH
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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