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City reacts to mask mandate
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City reacts to mask mandate

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ELKO – On the day that Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a new mask order that includes Elko County, the Elko City Council approved the wording of a letter to the governor opposing door-to-door vaccine solicitations, vaccine passports and vaccination of children without parental consent.

The letter was drafted before the new mask mandates that go into effect Friday because of increasing COVID-19 cases in Nevada. The council talked about the new restrictions near the end of its July 27 meeting.

City Manager Curtis Calder said the city must comply with the new restrictions, especially since Elko has and is receiving federal money that comes through the state, such as the CARES and American Rescue Plan dollars.

“We haven’t even published our letter yet, and now we have to deal with mask mandates,” he said.

“No one is going to like it,” Calder said, expressing concern that “now the expectation is that local governments are not going to follow mandates” because the new directive “comes on the heels” of COVID-19-related letters and resolutions by the city, county, and school board.

The council’s letter will be sent with attachments of the Elko County School District board’s recent letter urging parental choice on masks and the resolution that Elko County Commissioners passed this month opposing vaccine passports.

Calder said he and City Attorney Dave Stanton would review Sisolak’s latest mandate to determine how it impacts Elko.

In a July 28 email, the city manager said “we are currently working through the latest Emergency Directive and CDC Guidance to determine what the city will be required to do,” and the city would issue a press release probably Thursday. “We need our city attorney to review everything before we make any changes.”

Elko County Manager Amanda Osborne said in a July 28 email that “we are currently evaluating the latest emergency directive with our counsel and will advise when I have more information.”

According to The Associated Press, the governor’s order follows new indoor masking recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued earlier Tuesday, and state officials hoped the grace period until 12:01 a.m. Friday gives businesses time to adapt.

Councilman Clair Morris said “businesses won’t do it. It will be a mess.”

The order requiring masks in all public places covers 12 counties, including Elko County, where cases have increased more than 50% over the past week. Roughly half of those infected are under age 40. There were 104 active cases in Elko County as of July 27, up from 60 the prior week.

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Eureka, Lander, Humboldt, Pershing, and Storey counties do not fall under the new mandate, but residents in those counties who are not vaccinated are supposed to wear masks. The masks are optional for the vaccinated in those counties.

The council’s letter states that “while we remain hopeful that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, we realize a resurgence could lead to future COVID mitigation efforts in the State of Nevada. It is in that light that we ask you to protect the rights of your fellow Nevadans in the spirit of personal responsibility.”

Elko City Council’s letter to the governor also states that while comments from the public on future vaccine passports, door-to-door solicitations, reinstatement of mask mandates and parental consent for vaccines “were speculative in nature, our citizens remain extremely concerned of Federal and State Government overreach, especially with regard to COVID mitigation efforts.”

Mayor Reece Keener said he attended the Elko County Commission meeting on July 21, and he felt the county’s resolution covered the bases. “It’s something I support, and I have no qualms with a letter of endorsement for both,” referring to the resolution and school board letter.

Councilman Chip Stone said he thought the city’s letter was “great. It takes care of what we need to do and what we believe in.” He also asked that the council members sign the letter in addition to the mayor.

Councilman Clair Morris said he hoped the letter would get the governor’s attention, and he had no problem signing the city’s letter.

The passport resolution also states that the board of commissioners “prohibit the use of vaccine passports by any county office, board or agent” and “strongly discourages the use of vaccine passports by any other agency or business within the county.

“Everyone should be free to choose whether or not to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and no one should be discriminated against in any way for the decision they make,” the resolution says.

Lander County Commissioners passed a recent resolution that goes the extra step of prohibiting businesses from requiring customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or coronavirus recovery before entering a business.

That resolution also prohibits basing employment on proof of vaccination, according to the resolution.

The school board stated in its letter to Sisolak that it recognizes the importance of choice for parents and guardians when it comes to the welfare of their children.

“Indeed, this is a basic Constitutional right protected by the 14th Amendment,” the letter says, listing three concerns: potential extension of the mask mandate, the possibility of mandatory COVID-19 immunizations, and potential restrictions on participation in school activities based on immunization.

Before passage of the council letter, Keener asked if there was any public comment against the city’s letter, but there was none. Those supporting city action spoke at the July 14 council meeting, during which the council agreed to draft the letter, and a few spoke at the July 27 meeting.

Misty Atkins of Parents of Elko County said she wanted to see mention of parents’ choice in the letter, but Keener said endorsing and attaching the school board letter covered the topic.

Janine Hansen of Nevada Families for Freedom said “every day there are additional steps” toward vaccine passports.

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