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PUBLIC HEALTH

Fourth of July flip-flop

Ely council reverses course, allows ‘patriotic march’

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/17/20

ELY – Disregarding public health concerns because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ely City Council reversed an earlier decision to cancel the city’s 2020 Fourth of July parade and …

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PUBLIC HEALTH

Fourth of July flip-flop

Ely council reverses course, allows ‘patriotic march’

Posted

ELY – Disregarding public health concerns because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ely City Council reversed an earlier decision to cancel the city’s 2020 Fourth of July parade and instead supports a group of citizens to conduct their own “patriotic march” through town on Independence Day.
Supporters of the effort prompted the council Tuesday to give their blessing for the event. A request from the local group, who call themselves the “Ely Patriotic Club,” asked for assistance from the city of Ely. City public works department crews would work on the holiday to set up and remove barricades. Law enforcement was requested to control traffic. It is unclear if Ely fire department vehicles would participate.
“We received pushback from the League of Minnesota Cities in regard to the governor’s current (COVID-19) order and our ability to authorize a parade,” said Ely City Attorney Kelly Klun. “That being said, individuals do have First Amendment rights and they are going to exercise that right in the form of a patriotic march. The city has no objection and our legal requirements require us to work with the committee to make sure we have a route that is acceptable.”
The Patriotic Club reportedly purchased their own insurance policy for the event. It is unclear if medical costs would be covered for participants and/or spectators if they contract the coronavirus while attending or participating in the event.
A route mostly mirroring traditional Fourth of July parades here will be followed. Organizers reportedly applied for a permit with the state Department of Transportation for use of Sheridan Street, a state highway right-of-way. An alternative route was also offered that would use only city streets. Rather than ending at Whiteside Park, the patriotic march would extend to 16th Avenue to allow for social distancing.
Details for the event were outlined in the request, although it is unclear what time the march would begin:
• People should not be able to put out chairs ahead of time. This will encourage people to spread out.
• Using the same route keeps the 90-degree corners to three, and we will station people at each corner.
• Due to the late start (and) the number of parade participants, we expect the parade length to be much shorter.
• We encourage kids to decorate their bicycles and be part of the event.
• The Ely Honor Guard has offered to lead the parade and the Ely Klown Band will provide live music.
Mayor Chuck Novak said, “Traffic control wo.ld happen no matter what and you don’t need MnDOT approval.” He also said no city permit would be required for the group to hold the event.
Earlier decision reversed
Previously, the city’s official Fourth of July committee informed the council that sanctioned festivities, besides the annual fireworks display, would be canceled this year. Communities across the Iron Range, the state and the nation made similar decisions because of social distancing and other health concerns due to COVID-19.
At that time, the council nixed any other grassroots efforts to hold celebrations because of public health concerns.
The city’s Fourth of July committee memo, read and accepted at the June 2 council meeting, stated, “The Ely Fourth of July Committee has been closely monitoring the continually-evolving situation around COVID-19. Ely’s Fourth of July parade draws thousands of people each year. Because of the uncertainty around what the coming months will hold for large gatherings and health and safety recommendations, we have made the decision to cancel Ely’s 2020 Fourth of July parade. The Fireworks by Premier Pyrotechnics will still go on the night of the Fourth. This has been a very tough choice as Ely’s Fourth of July Parade is always a highlight of the summer. We hope next year we can have a bigger and better celebration.”
Prior to the council accepting the official Fourth of July Committee’s recommendation at the June 2 council meeting, council member Al Forsman related that a group of citizens, spearheaded by the publisher of a local media company, was already planning to disregard public health concerns in this community and hold their own protest procession through the streets of Ely.
At that June 2 council meeting, Mayor Novak adamantly pushed back on any celebration not sanctioned by the city.
“I would offer this,” Novak said at the time, “we have some rules out of St. Paul that we have to adhere to. But the driving force here is that we have a lot of boards and commissions and the council has to beg for volunteers sometimes. These volunteers put their heart and soul in and wrangle with having to make this type of decision. I’m not in any mood to override their decision. I’m going to respect our committee’s decision.”
Council member Heidi Omerza supported the mayor.
“I find it very interesting that when we cancel the event, people are suddenly coming in wanting to take over and have a parade. I question the validity of this group of people,” she said on June 2.
Health concerns
Cases of coronavirus are spiking as more communities ignore health officials’ guidelines for widespread use of protective face masks, social distancing and sheltering in place.
Around the state this week, deaths from COVID-19 continued to climb, with state Health Department officials reporting on June 16. nine more Minnesotans have died from the disease, pushing the total above 1,300 since the pandemic began. Overall, more than 30,000 Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19. A recent model frequently used in the past by the White House projects the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States at 200,000 by October.
According to Jon Erickson, executive director of the Ely Community Health Center, Minnesota and especially northern Saint Louis County are classified as a low-risk areas as the level of virus transmission and serious cases of COVID-19 are decreasing or almost non-existent.
“However, one factor has the potential of changing this is that we are now seeing a lot of tourists and visitors coming to experience what Ely has to offer, but since we have no way to check where these people are coming from, we have a hard time assessing what the future risk level really is,” Erickson said.
“Researching the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for Community Gathers and Events, there is an established risk metric which would classify the Ely Fourth of July parade as a moderate risk as long as the parade organizers enforce physical distancing rules (where individuals from different households remain spaced at least six feet apart and wear face coverings),” he said.
“If the parade organizers do not enforce the separation of households by six feet and enforce the use of face coverings, the risk level would be elevated to the second-highest level which is the higher risk classification and should not be permitted this year,” Erickson added.
“My position is also influenced by the general laissez-faire of the community in wearing face coverings in community gatherings and supermarkets,” he said. “In my observation, too many people are not following the general CDC guidelines so that asking the parade organizers to enforce these rules when the community is not supporting them would not be a good decision.”
Other business
In other action, the council:
• Accepted a request from the K America Foundation to vacate their purchase agreement to develop the Community Center into a Korean Cultural Center. In a May 30 email to the city of Ely, Yoon Byongchan wrote, “While we thought the coronavirus was our greatest hurdle, it seems the deadliest virus is racism.” City officials will refund the group’s $30,000 purchase price after legal and other expenses are calculated. Council member Angela Campbell abstained from voting on the matter.
• Initiated efforts to search for a new Zoning Administrator upon request from Tim Riley, who is stepping down from the position.
• Passed a resolution seeking funds from Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for the demolition of a house at 15 S. Central Ave. that was destroyed in a fire last week.
• Approved an amplification permit for the State Theater to conduct an outdoor movie event on Friday, July 3 in the Rockwood Bar and Grill parking lot.

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