City reopening plan stirs debate about masks

During discussion of City Planner Ryan Mathisrud's three-phase plan, Park Rapids council members did not arrive at a consensus about whether to encourage or require staff to wear face masks.

Park Rapids City Hall (Enterprise file photo)

Park Rapids City Administrator Ryan Mathisrud presented a three-phase plan for reopening city facilities at a special city council meeting on Tuesday.

Titled the COVID-19 General Operations Plan, Mathisrud’s memo in the council’s agenda packet addressed the safety measures the city and its employees will take to protect public health “to the greatest extent practicable within the guidelines established by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) and the city council.”

Safety measures include bringing back employees in phases, providing cloth masks and sanitizers, regularly disinfecting surfaces, ensuring social distancing and encouraging employees to wash their hands, cover their cough, stay home if sick and give feedback to their department heads about best practices.

Mathisrud described “Phase 1” as where the city is at now: All city buildings are closed to the public except the liquor store or by appointment only; meetings are held remotely; employees who can work from home do so; business travel is limited to extraordinary need, etc.

Mathisrud said “Phase 2” would likely begin soon as COVID-19 restrictions start to relax: City hall would reopen with sneeze guards in place, while the public works and police buildings remain closed. Citizens are encouraged to continue making appointments to visit city hall and to pay bills remotely when possible. Employees who can to work at home are encouraged to do so. Employees are encouraged to wear face masks. Council chambers re-open for meetings of up to 10 people, while community members are still encouraged to dial in via conference call, and public restrooms will open with signs noting how frequently they are cleaned.


Mathisrud said “Phase 3” represents the relaxing of most restrictions, allowing larger gatherings, with room to re-evaluate and make adjustments for long-term sustainability.

He said the plan as a whole is designed to be flexible and allow goals to be moved between phases, and standards to be tightened or relaxed as needed.

Council member Tom Conway voiced a concern that employees should not only be encouraged but required to mask to protect the public and each other – like at the RDO plant.

Mathisrud said employees could be required to mask if the city council wants, although based on his discussion with city staff, he felt there was not a lot of support for it. He noted that several local businesses have sneeze shields and encourage, but do not require, mask use.

City Planner Andrew Mack added that some local businesses do require masks, including medical and dental facilities.

Mayor Ryan Leckner and council member Liz Stone said they felt that with the sneeze guards and other precautions in place, it was sufficient to encourage mask wearing.

Leckner added that employees who have concerns should speak up.

After debate went back and forth, Mathisrud concluded he did not sense a consensus on the council about whether to encourage or require masks. Since the matter was presented for discussion only, no council action was taken.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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