Range cities work to open up following mask mandate expiration

Masks required signs were still on the doors for enter the Virginia City Hall Monday. Public buildings and business owners are developing new policies to reflect changing state requirements.

IRON RANGE — Cities across the Iron Range are individually responding to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement last week that relaxed COVID-19 mask mandate guidelines. Overall, cities are working to open up and follow the new recommendations of state and federal health organizations.

The Virginia City Council addressed the matter during Tuesday morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

“There’s been a lot of confusion. I received a lot of calls over the weekend,” said Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. Since the beginning of the pandemic, “we’ve always followed the governor’s guidelines.”

That will continue to be the case for the city, he said.

Walz signed an executive order Friday morning to undo the state’s mask mandate based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks outside or inside in most cases. The CDC continues to advise masking up for people who are not vaccinated.

Virginia was the first known city on the Range to end its emergency declaration in late March after nearly a year of being in effect. The city, however, maintained its request that the public abide by masking and social distancing guidelines.

Cuffe noted that “a lot of businesses in town are relaxing the mask mandate,” after the governor’s announcement, and said he expects that “reasonable citizens” will continue to wear masks if they are not fully immunized.

Councilors Tuesday discussed composing a resolution based on the governor’s language stating that it remains strongly recommended that people who are not vaccinated still wear face coverings indoors in city buildings.

Cuffe said following the meeting that since the city has ended its emergency orders, a resolution is not necessary. But an email will be sent to city employees, an announcement will be made at the next council meeting and information will be posted to social media alerting the public of the city’s abidance by the governor’s recommendations.

The city also plans to replace its current signs with new ones stating that masks are not necessary for vaccinated individuals, but suggested for those who are unvaccinated; and people who feel sick are asked to refrain from entering buildings, said the mayor.

Additionally, the city is advising employees of a “respectful workplace policy” that prevents harassment of individuals who choose to continue to wear masks, he said.

Farther west on the Range in Hibbing, Mayor Rick Cannata said the city council plans to take action on the matter at tonight’s city council meeting. City buildings have been open since March 1, by appointment prior to that; but masks are still required until a decision is made tonight.

The mayor said he expects the city to continue to follow state guidelines, which would relax masking for vaccinated individuals.

In nearby Chisholm, as of last Wednesday’s council meeting, the COVID-19 plan is still in place, requiring wearing a mask and social distancing. City buildings, however, will open May 24.

On the east Range, the City of Aurora has “not made a final determination,” said Clerk-Treasurer Stefanie Dickinson. City buildings are open. But, for now, mask mandates prior to the governor’s recent announcement are still in place, she said.

In two of the other Quad Cities, both Eveleth and Mountain Iron are set to open city buildings on June 1.

Eveleth Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich said Walz’s announcement was a “welcome call” ahead of this past Saturday’s Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener. He said he believes it helped the state’s tourism economy.

Around town, Vlaisavljevich said, businesses are free to still require masks. Some are and some aren’t. “I respect that totally,” he said.

The mayor said people seem to be in the habit of social distancing now, and he thinks most individuals will continue to “use common sense.”

Mayor Karl Oberstar of Gilbert said its library has been open for a few months and city hall was only closed to the public during the first few months of the pandemic.

Some city employees have been working from home, and they will be allowed to continue to do so.

The city is following the governor’s recommendations of dropping mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, he said. “We will do whatever the governor said.”

Oberstar added that he hopes “more people will get vaccinated. I think that’s happening with the younger generation, and the older generation who hasn’t yet, I hope they are convinced to do so.”

In Ely, Mayor Chuck Novak said the city is also “going along with federal and state guidelines.” The Ely City Council has been meeting in person, while following social distancing guidelines, since last April, he said.

All city emergency orders are being rescinded now after the governor’s announcement, he said.

“It’s time for personal responsibility, not public responsibility.”

St. Louis County is also following the governor’s lead.

Face masks are no longer required to be worn inside any St. Louis County Courthouse, Government Services Center or other buildings, with the exception of the county jails.

Most county offices are open to the public by appointment, and plans to safely reopen all offices on June 1 are being finalized.

The Auditor's Office is open at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth as is the Government Services Center in Virginia to assist people with property tax payments. No appointment is needed.

The Recorder's Office is open — by appointment only — at both the courthouse in Duluth and the Government Services Center in Virginia to assist people needing vital records or real estate recordings.

Public Health and Human Services is currently offering limited in-person services at the Government Services Centers in Duluth and Virginia, and the Hibbing Annex Building.

St. Louis County continues to offer services by phone, email, mail and online.

“We are committed to protecting the safety of our citizens and employees within county facilities, while also ensuring we continue to serve the people of St. Louis County,” according to a statement on the county website.

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