A call to require permitted events in Rochester to require or provide masks to attendees failed to gain traction Monday.
In reviewing permits for several upcoming events, including the planned Sept. 18 Med City Arts Festival, Rochester City Council members Molly Dennis and Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick asked to include an extra level of guidance in response to increased spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“I definitely don’t want the city to have liability if there is a mass-spreader situation happening at one of the events that we just permitted to happen during a global pandemic,” Dennis said.
Council member Nick Campion said the city can encourage mask usage, but can’t be held responsible for the actions of others.
“It is not the city’s responsibility to make these events safe,” he said. “It is the event’s responsibility to be safe. If the participants, the people attending the event, feel uncomfortable, if they are not vaccinated, it’s their responsibility to not go.”
He said a COVID-response plan could be requested for future events, but it would be difficult to ask for that at the last minute.
“These applicants have done everything we have requested of them,” he said.
Monday’s council discussion was less than two weeks after the council voted 5-2 to rescind an emergency declaration and mask mandate initiated by Mayor Kim Norton. In its place, council members unanimously approved a resolution strongly encouraging people to get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public spaces.
Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Olmsted County Public Health have recommended face coverings be worn in crowded outdoor gatherings.
City Administrator Alison Zelms said organizers of city events, such as the forWARD concert series, have started providing masks and hand sanitizer to encourage people to be safe.
Dennis said she’d like to see permitted events be required to do the same.
“I will not support any approvals of potential mass spreaders,” she said as the only council member to end up voting against the requested event permits.
Council President Brooke Carlson, citing a recent large family event she planned, said community organizers are facing unique challenges.
“It’s a painstaking process to be planning events and keeping risk as low as possible, but we are not going to eliminate risk through anything we do,” she said. “Yet, that doesn’t mean we stop holding events entirely. It means we take our responsibility to figure out what sort of mitigation we can have as the event planners and do the very best we can.
“It’s up to people whether they attend or not.”