Steamboat opts against mask mandate, explores purchasing thousands of COVID rapid tests

After the Routt County Board of Commissioners declined to do so, Steamboat Springs City Council weighed bringing a resolution to implement a citywide mask mandate Tuesday at the council work session, but members ultimately decided against it.

Council members Joella West and Gail Garey said they had received several emails from community members asking the city to act after the county did not.

“An enormous number of people think that the county commissioners made the wrong choice,” West said. “If we’re looking at the science, that’s where the science is.”

Commissioners rejected a mask mandate because hospital cases were low at the time of their decision. Still, Dr. Brian Harrington, the county’s chief medical officer, encouraged the board to impose a mask mandate, citing a concern that hospitalizations could surge weeks after cases increase.

“We, as a city, are taking the recommendation of our health department,” West said Tuesday, arguing for the mask mandate.

Other council members felt asking businesses to police mask-wearing put low-wage workers in an uncomfortable position.

“I spent most of last Tuesday talking with the restaurant community, and they’re tired of being the mask police,” said council member Dakotah McGinlay. “They are burnt out.”

Ultimately, council members felt that wearing a mask should fall on an individual, rather than the city forcing people to do so.

“As much as I don’t like it, I have to believe that there is personal responsibility here,” said Council President Robin Crossan. “I am not fine with telling this community that we have to do mask patrol again.”

Though council opted out of a mask mandate, several members asked to move all city governing meetings back to Zoom-only. Meetings are currently held in a hybrid model between the video platform and meeting inside of Centennial Hall. Council also decided against that action, however.

“I think the messaging that we can give to our citizens, as well as to our employees, is to protect yourselves and know that we’re leading by doing the right thing, at least until this huge spike goes down,” said council member Heather Sloop, arguing to move meetings back to an all-virtual format. “I feel that we could do something great by doing Zoom meetings until further notice.”

Other council members felt meeting in-person provided value that meeting over Zoom could not, and council ultimately decided to continue meeting in-person but allow any council or staff members hesitant about large gatherings to join on Zoom.

Between Dec. 27 and Jan. 9, Routt County reported 942 new COVID-19 cases and five new hospitalizations, according to the county’s COVID dashboard.

In considering ways in which the city can help the COVID-19 situation, council members suggested purchasing a large quantity of rapid COVID-19 tests to be made available for businesses and individuals.

Council did not give any firm direction but asked city manager Gary Suiter to explore purchasing rapid tests alongside the Steamboat Chamber and others. In addition to potentially buying thousands of tests, Suiter will also ask businesses what else the city can do to ease their burdens.

Suiter will explore the possibility of purchasing tests and report back to council at its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18.

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