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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota


City of Ely: Police Department can’t afford to enforce face mask rules

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/30/20

ELY - A patron wearing a face mask entered the Ely Post Office Thursday morning made a remark to a departing customer, also donning a protective face mask, “Thank you for protecting …

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City of Ely: Police Department can’t afford to enforce face mask rules


ELY - A patron wearing a face mask entered the Ely Post Office Thursday morning made a remark to a departing customer, also donning a protective face mask, “Thank you for protecting me.”
The exiting Post Office visitor responded that wearing a face mask would be the law all over the state starting Saturday.
A retirement-age woman on her way into the facility said she heard about Gov. Tim Walz’s new mask mandate, announced last week, and indicated that since March she had been wearing a protective face covering to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’ll see how that new law goes over here in Ely,” she added.
Entering a local gas station/convenience store that same day, a visitor observed a bicycle rider parking his two-wheeler to enter the store. Without prompting, the 20-something bearded man looked at the masked patron, and said, “I’m doing my laundry and my face mask. I should get another one.”
Reaction to the state face mask mandate in the Ely area has been mixed. While many residents and visitors have seemed to support the accepted community-wide behavior aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, a decidedly anti-mask population exists here.
Browsing around Facebook, a group of “patriotic” people continues to speak out against any public health protocols put in place to help slow the spread of the pandemic.
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak noted that Gov. Walz had considered a regional approach in issuing protective face-mask guidelines.
“When I look at what’s going on up here compared to down in the Twin Cities and the metro area, most people up here respect that we need to either mask up or social distance, and I don’t think we get any recognition for that,” he said.
“I don’t know what the motive is to do the full (mask) mandate across the whole state,” Novak said. “I’ve talked to other mayors in greater Minnesota and they are just blown away by this, and some are downright mad.”
As far as enforcement of the mask mandate in Ely, Novak simply stated, “The Ely Police Department will not be the enforcement agency in the city of Ely if I have anything to say about it.”
Novak said in discussions with Ely Police Chief Chad Houde they have determined the city can’t afford to enforce the new public health law.
“We are one active officer short right now and they are pretty busy as it is,” he said.
The mayor confirmed that Ely Police officers will not be distributing face masks either. “Who’s going to pay for them?” he asked. When reminded that the city of Ely just received approximately $250,000 in federal CARES Act funding to help pay for COVID-19 expenses, Novak added, “Well, we’re going to buy masks, but they may not arrive in any reasonable amount of time.”
Novak added, “We’re in a difficult situation because we are one of the lowest levels of government. If anything is going to happen here for enforcement, it going to have to come from outside of the city, whether the (St. Louis County) Sheriff or (Minnesota) State Patrol.”
He added that reaction to the state mask mandate runs the gamut in Ely.
“There are those who take it very seriously and are scared silly, and those on the other end who don’t care. I think the vast majority of people here are right in the middle,” he said.
Random observations of shoppers in Ely’s downtown corridor on Saturday, the first day of the mandate, revealed a surprising number of people, both visitors and residents, who were donning face masks on the street.
Frandsen Bank and Trust has issued a notice that their lobby in Ely is now closed because of the state mask mandate. Customers are asked to call the business for assistance. Another Ely bank, Wells Fargo, abruptly closed in March and just recently reopened their lobby.
Over at the Dorothy Molter Museum, Executive Director Jess Edberg said that facility chose the most conservative interpretation of the guidelines, such as requiring face masks for staff and visitors.
“With our inability to hire additional seasonal staff, it was imperative that we did everything we could to keep our staff and visitors as healthy as possible while still being able to reopen,” she said.
“The majority of our visitors have been very cooperative. As with any change in operations, there have been a few that have expressed frustration directly to staff,” Edberg said. “It’s easy to be frustrated or angry about the situation we are all in, but, the reality of it is we will be in this situation for the foreseeable future.”
Peter Schamber, manager of Ely’s Historic State Theater, said most everyone has been very receptive to the face mask protocols.
“We have only had one or two people who didn’t bring a mask, and we supplied them with a disposable one,” he said.
“Everyone seems to understand that they need to wear them while moving around, but that it is okay to remove it to eat and drink. The mandate doesn’t seem to have impacted our attendance. I have been pleased with the support of our patrons as we adopt this new policy,” Schamber said.


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