Blanding discusses COVID-19 rules
The Blanding City Council was faced with some tough decisions at their November 10 meeting due to Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s declaration of a new state emergency in response to COVID-19.
The scope of the council conversation was to clarify, under the new law, what will be the policies of Blanding City in regards to city facilities, employees, and their interactions with the public.
City Attorney Kendall Laws said according to the state stance on events and extracurricular activities, the majority of the responsibility for any event lands on who owns, operates, or provides the facility for the event. Then there is an entire restriction under event hosting and what they would be required to do.
An event host is required to ensure that each individual attending an event is required to wear a face mask.
In addition, six feet of distance is required between individuals from separate households, including an area of ingress and egress, unless there is a justified waiver.
The new mandate requires a mask and six feet between separate households. The host also needs to post the COVID-19 symptoms on entrances and needs to complete an event management template provided by the state health department. The current state of emergency is in effect only through November 23.
The most significant change is that the new mandate will be seriously enforced by the State of Utah.
Laws said the state has a reporting site for residents to report violations of businesses that do not follow the mandate.
Laws said, “It is insane, it popped up over-night. To the fact that they (the state) are now going through the Department of Labor, as well as OSHA, to have it enforced administratively with their attorneys.”
As City Attorney, Laws encouraged the city council to keep in mind it doesn’t seem like the state is messing around, at least for the next two weeks.
One event that could be impacted is the annual Christmas Festival known as the “Tree for All.”
Paul Rogers was at the city council meeting to help the vendors’ voices be heard. “I’m actually representing quite a few vendors and townspeople that would like to have this fair happen,” he said.
“People in town are anxious for something normal to happen, especially for Christmas, and we are well aware of the risks, everything else, and we are all willing to follow COVID rules: the spacing, the masks, and everything else.
“We would like to find a happy medium and move forward for the ‘Tree for All.’ The vendors have been preparing all year for this and it is kind of a blow just not to have it. I mean, it is important and I think we should not brush it off because somebody might get sick. That is how we see it.”
The anticipated date of the “Tree for All” is the first weekend of December.
Mayor Joe B. Lyman said, “We are at this difficulty where we don’t know where the rules will be by the first weekend of December. The rules could change the day before.
“And then you have people that have the plans, anticipation, and here we are again.”
At this point, the city council motioned for the “Tree for All” to be considered still a possibility but that a party from both the vendors and the city would have to be actively involved with the health department with the strict guidelines in order to be allowed to continue.
The council also discussed what else might be affected by the state of emergency, including use of the Blanding Recreation Center.
All extracurricular activities are cancelled for the next two weeks, with the exception of State Championship football games.
With school sports being canceled, the recreation building has reached capacity with residents coming to use the facility.
Now the city has come to understand that the state of emergency mandates may also apply to the Recreation Center.
In a nutshell, the formal legal advice to the city is to curtail all the programs that the school district has placed on the school buildings.
Also, it is recommended that San Juan Public Health needs to be made aware of issues and may need to deal with them directly.
The city council would like for students to be able to use the recreation center but there will need to be stricter guidelines and enforcement by the public health department.
The idea is that kids are still encouraged to practice but on their own time, not in groups, and with the approval of San Juan Public Health.
If the city authorizes any use of any city facility, the city can be liable if restrictions are not followed. Failure to properly enforce the new guidelines can result in a $10,000 fine.
Regarding these changes, Mayor Lyman said, “The overtone that is so bothersome with this is that everyone becomes citizen police and turn on each other like rabid animals. The feel of this is just not good.”
Lyman said he wanted to encourage use of facilities so people can do what they want to do, but added the city will work with San Juan Public Health to know what the current requirements are.
“As I understand,” said the mayor, “Individuals have God-given rights whereas cities do not. Cities have the rights that their creator gave them and their creator is the State of Utah.”
It was a somber note as the city council better understood the real liability they face with the COVID-19 mandates.
Mayor Lyman added, “I have to hope people will understand that these are the rules if they want to [use city facilities].
“If people don’t stick with the rules then they will lose it. I expect people to maybe not like things but will work with it because that’s where we are all at. I don’t like it and I’m trying to work with it also.”
Other agenda items discussed by the council were the use of CARES Act funds for COVID-19. The exact allocation of the funds hasn’t been finalized as they await more cost efficient bids.
The priority will remain on law enforcements and how to spread it out amongst the community.
One of the biggest benefits of the funds is to buy things the city already needs and alleviate the tax burden on residents.
Council member Logan Shumway said, “The best thought is to look into what we have to get versus what we need to get to have the bonus of having the tax burden decreased on citizens including the biggest impact on the city as a whole.”
Mayor Lyman urged anyone who has specific ideas to bring them to the staff and not wait for the next meeting so they can work out the ideas and have them ready to be presented at the next meeting.
Council member Kd Perkins reported that the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) determined that the city does not meet the requirements for an overhead light at the school crossing on South Main Street.
The request has officially been declined, along with signage at the site that was put on hold due to budget.