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Marshall ends local state of emergency

Decision prompts council discussion about safety at open meetings

MARSHALL — It’s been more than a year since the city of Marshall declared a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as COVID restrictions around the state start to relax, city council members decided it was time to end the emergency.

A motion to end the local state of emergency passed unanimously at Tuesday’s city council meeting. However, the change also sparked a short discussion on how best to handle COVID safety at open public meetings in the future.

Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes declared the local state of emergency on March 17, 2020. At the time Byrnes said the move would allow the city to take important actions, like making emergency purchases or closing public facilities, if it was needed for COVID response. The declaration was later continued, and for the past year the city council has been holding smaller meetings at the MERIT Center with some council members and city staff taking part through videoconferencing.

In May, many of Minnesota’s COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and masking came to an end. On Tuesday, council members were all present in the same meeting room again, and gave their support to ending the local state of emergency. But even though he voted in favor of ending the local state of emergency, council member Steven Meister asked how the city intended to handle safety at council meetings.

City council meetings can sometimes draw a lot of people, and Meister said he wouldn’t want to see City Hall potentially become the site of a COVID outbreak. At the same time, he and other council members said there were limits to what they could require from members of the public.

Byrnes and Russ Labat suggested using signs to recommend people follow best practices for COVID safety, especially if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Labat used the example of businesses like Menards. He said Menards had signs saying the business would appreciate it if non-vaccinated people wear masks.

“I think signage is important, and continuing education,” said City Administrator Sharon Hanson.

She said the city could possibly revisit the question if they think a council meeting will have a high attendance.

“I know it depends on the agenda,” she said.

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