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Wright County News

Posted on: May 14, 2020

County Mulling Mask/Face Covering Policy When Public Returns to County Facilities

Anyone who has been out in a public venue over the last few weeks has seen the growing number of people who have chosen to wear masks and face coverings. It has become a personal decision for many – some who feel a mask is a necessary precaution and others who believe they serve little practical safety purpose.

However, the requirement of wearing a mask have been a divisive issue for some businesses that won’t allow people to enter their buildings without a face covering. Earlier this week, Wright County wrestled with the topic of whether or not to require face coverings to enter county buildings and there were two distinct schools of thought on it.

Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said this isn’t a black-or-white, yes-or-no issue. It’s more complicated than that.

“This has multiple layers,” Vetsch said. “Do we recommend people to wear masks? Do we require them to wear masks? If we go to requiring people to wear them are we requiring just employee or employees and the general public to wear masks? Then there comes into this that elected officials have the purview to do what they want regardless of what we decide, so there could be some inequities in the county that can cause contempt as well. There are a lot of pieces to move on this.”

Two elected officials in the county have very different procedures. County Attorney Tom Kelly implemented a policy for his department that began Monday, May 11 requiring everyone coming in the office to wear a face covering or mask. Sheriff Sean Deringer, on the other hand, said he has supplied all of his staff with masks, but won’t require them to wear them, saying his deputies have been trained and fitted with N95 masks and will leave the decision to wear them up to the individual employees.

Board Chair Christine Husom questioned whether many of the masks people are using serve the purpose they believe they do. Many of the inexpensive paper masks that are handled by people and rendered moot immediately after being put on and she has seen the ends of the spectrum – people wearing protective masks, others wearing face coverings of little safety value and others not wearing anything.

“People when they come into this building, some of them wear masks and some of them don’t,” Husom said. “It’s a choice that they’re making. I struggle with this one myself because there is only a certain level of protection you’re going to get.”

Several department heads spoke up, asking the county board not to make it the job of employees to enforce people wearing masks and potentially refusing service to those who don’t.

“As far as the public goes, don’t put us in the position of policing the mask issue,” Planning & Zoning Administrator Sean Riley said. “I’m not going to tell somebody they can’t apply for a building permit because they don’t have a mask on. If they don’t want to come to the courthouse, we’ll take any measure to process that request without them having to come in.”

Court Services Director Mike MacMillan said his department has a policy because employees with offenders who have monitoring, drug testing or mandatory visits that require they meet face to face with staff. It was those concerns over social distancing while still completing the work they are legally required to do that drove his department to create a mask policy.

“We’ve got a policy that keeps us more than 10 feet away,” MacMillan said. “It does give the offender a mask to wear and also our staff received masks. Before I implemented it, I made sure that I was dealing with the CDC to make sure we were following the protocol.”

Veteran Services Director Greg Pickard shared the belief that the county shouldn’t require the public to wear masks, but should look into whether or not to have a policy within offices.

“Don’t put me in the position that I have to have an altercation with one of my customers because they’re not wearing a mask,” Pickard said. “If you want to wear a mask, by all means. I encourage you for your own safety and your own comfort. I think we do need to have an internal county policy how we’re going to operate inside our offices. Some individuals will want to wear mask and some won’t. How do we manage that interaction because if one does and one doesn’t, one of them is going to get upset. I think making the public wear them is a mistake.”

One concerned attendee at the meeting was License Bureau Supervisor Becky Aanerud. Not only is her office expected to be overflowing with customers when public counters re-open, people wearing masks have to remove them for certain department functions.

“You need to remember that when we work with customers, we have to verify their identity,” Aanerud said. “They have to take the mask off to take their picture. We have another challenge with the eye machine. You have to put your head on that eye machine and you’re breathing into that. We will have to be cleaning between each person. Will a mask help? I don’t know, but don’t make us have to tell people who have waited in line for an hour or more that we won’t wait on them because they’re not wearing a mask. We have to look at faces.”

Health & Human Services Director Jami Goodrum-Schwartz said one of her concerns is that part of her department’s work is with small children and seeing employees in masks could be traumatizing. She also added that there is a divide within her own department on the mask/face covering issue.

“There are concerns on both sides of this with our staff,” Goodrum-Schwartz said. “I have staff saying, ‘I don’t want to come back to work until everyone is wearing a mask’ and I have staff saying, ‘I don’t want to come back to work if I have to wear a mask.’ It runs the gamut.”

The county board doesn’t have plans to implement a mask policy at this time and a decision likely won’t come unless the situation changes and a state or federal mandate to wear masks come out. There are several differing views on the subject, but one aspect seems clear – nobody wants to be put in charge of enforcing such a policy.

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