COVID facemark MT

City of Monticello employees are masking up to fend the COVID-19 virus.

The Monticello City Council took action Monday, Jan. 10 to implement the masking requirement.

In early February, unvaccinated employees could also be required to submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. That requirement is pending a ruling on the legality of such mandated tests by the United States Supreme Court.

The directive from the city council came a week after Minnesota’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MN-OSHA) on Monday, Jan. 3 adopted the federal OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that the federal OSHA approved on Nov. 5, 2021. 

The ETS applies to large employers- employers with 100 or more employees- and requires, among other things, that employers develop, implement, and enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies. The ETS also states employees must be vaccinated or, in lieu of vaccination, undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear face coverings at work.

Minnesota’s OSHA office has state that it would begin enforcing mask requirements on Monday, Jan. 10 and COVID testing requirements on Feb. 9.

However, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments of Friday, Jan. 7 regarding whether a stay of enforcement of the ETS should be put in place.

The Supreme Court, as of the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 11, had yet to rule on the matter, putting into question just how local government units such as Mille Lacs County will deal with the potential mask and vaccination mandates.

Many city and county government units are being encouraged by their membership associations to take steps to comply with the ETS and, at a minimum, be in position to show “‘good faith’ efforts” to implement the rules to avoid potential citations coming out of this period of enforcement discretion.

The National Law Review, on Tuesday, Jan. 11, stated, “Although many had anticipated that the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on the legality of the OSHA ETS prior to today, the Court’s failure to do so means that covered employers should be prepared to comply.”

That’s what the city of Monticello was doing when it voted to enact the masking policy on Monday, Jan. 10.

Council member Bill Fair made a motion to immediately require that all city staff be required to wear masks while at work. Council member Jim Davidson offered an amendment requiring that the masking policy be reviewed on a monthly basis. Both measures passed unanimously.

In a brief workshop with city councilors and city staff members prior to the Jan. 10 city council meeting, City administrator Rachel Leonard stressed that she favored implementing a mask policy because it was irresponsible to risk being fined by OSHA and paying the fines with taxpayers money.

Leonard noted that if  the city enforces a testing policy for unvaccinated employees in early February, the City would be responsible for the cost of the tests.

City of Monticello Human Resources Manager Tracy Ergin said she has contracted with a testing provider that would conduct tests at a city location two times a week to meet the needs of employee schedules. If the Supreme Court rules that the testing requirements are unenforcible, the city tests would not be conducted.

The city council decision to enact the employee mask mandate was unanimously supported and didn’t garner too much discussion.

However, the agenda item turned a bit contentious Shawn and Cory Peters were given an opportunity to speak.

The Peters opposed any kind of future mandate for city employees that might involve vaccinations.

Shawn Peters stated that “United we stand and divided we fall.” He said that there are powers at work trying to divide the people of our nation.

He read to the city council the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and read passages from the Nuremberg Code, which is a set of ethical guidelines related to experiments on humans- which he contended the COVID vaccines are.

He also suggested government bodies were coercing people into doing things they don’t want to do.

Cory Peters told councilors that 818,000 people have died from adverse events related to vaccinations.

A contentious exchange occurred between the Peters and Council Member Bill Fair, who took offense to the unsubstantiated data being presented by the Peters.

A Wright County deputy was on hand in the council chambers to ensure that the meeting remained orderly.

On a related note, Leonard said CentraCare officials met with representatives of Central Minnesota cities on Friday, Jan. 7 asking cities and counties to enforce a six-week mask mandate to slow COVID-19.

“They said they have done everything they can do and are taxed,” Leonard said.

CentraCare encouraged a policy on community masking and asked that gatherings be limited within city-owned complexes, she said.

While the City of Monticello enacted a masking policy for its employees, the city council stopped short of establishing a city-wide mask mandate.

Such a measure had no support from Mayor Lloyd Hilgart he said. The measure never came up for a vote.

St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park- also CentraCare communities- decided not to enforce a local mask mandate, as well. The cities did, however, join together in issuing a public statement encouraging the public to take a series of actions to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Editor

Jeff Hage is the managing editor of the Monticello Times. He majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

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