Another sign of the return to normalcy: the city of Mound last Tuesday lifted its peacetime emergency, dropped the mask requirement for employees not face-to-face with the public and, heralding a summer once again full of waterfront activity, allowed rentals of its popular Depot at Surfside Beach to resume June 1.
Much of the activity May 25 was to bring the city in line with current CDC guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced last month that people who are fully vaccinated could go without face masks, even indoors; that information was quickly taken up by Gov. Tim Walz, who then removed Minnesota’s statewide masking mandate earlier than initially planned.
Minnesota is still under a statewide peacetime emergency, with Walz having extended the declaration every month since last March, including one such extension made after ending the mask mandate. But the new guidance from the CDC, coupled with declining case rates and an increasing vaccination rate, has given some confidence in a loosening of restrictions, both locally and statewide.
Recent 14-day case rates from Minnesota Department of Health show that the number of cases in Hennepin County have been declining every week since late March. That trend has been similar throughout the state of Minnesota. As of May 28, 65 percent of Minnesotans age 16 or older had received at least the first does of a vaccine.
When Mound updated its COVID-19 protocols last Tuesday, the expiration of other statewide restrictions then in place—those around capacity limits and social distancing—was mere days away and finally dropped aside May 28.
Depot rentals, suspended since last May, resumed this week on June 1 with only the minor limitation that those applying for an event permit will have to “demonstrate compliance with the CDC’s recommendations for large events and any Governor’s Executive Orders in effect at the time of event.”
But apart from that update, Mound residents may not notice too much different in the days ahead. Council had already resumed meeting in its regular chambers at the Centennial Building, and Mound city employees who interact with the public, including those at the municipal Harbor Wine & Spirits, will still be required to wear a face mask.
The local peacetime emergency that Mound had in place since March of last year had still allowed regular city functions to go on. Many cities had instated local declarations on recommendation from the League of Minnesota Cities as a kind of insurance policy for reaping federal aid dollars since it was unknown at the time whether relief money would be tied to such a declaration. The city of Minnetrista had already lifted its local peacetime emergency last August, although its council continues to meet remotely.
Hoversten said that the decision to leave Mound’s emergency in place until now was in part due to the city’s council and the planning commission meeting outside of the Mound city limits, at the Westonka Performing Arts Center in Minnetrista.
The PAC location had been worked out to allow for in-person meetings with enough social distancing for residents. The arrangement was an important one to make, Mound Mayor Ray Salazar said just before council began meeting at the PAC: the city was scheduled to take up questions around development in the downtown area, and residents needed to have a proper public forum for it.
Council has been back in its regular chambers at the Centennial Building since its April 13 meeting.
“We have come to the meaningful end of needing that [local emergency in place], particularly now that we are back here in council chambers,” said Hoversten, who said that decisions around the emergency had been made on recommendations from the city attorney.
“The extraordinary nature of COVID, coupled with the [state’s] emergency declaration” had made certain things—a local emergency, masking requirements—reasonable, he said. But “they don’t make sense anymore.”
Hoversten said that Mound would act within Walz’s original timeline for any further loosening of COVID restrictions and that the city would revisit its protocols either July 1 or when the state hits the 70 percent threshold for vaccination as laid out in that timeline.
One lasting remnant of changes made in the past year, and which is still in place, is that restaurants and other businesses may still apply with the city for use of outdoor space as an extension of their regular quarters. Mound had put the temporary measure in place just before restaurants were allowed to reopen their patios (but not their dining rooms) one year ago. That resolution will lapse at the end of October and is unlikely to be renewed, said Hoversten.