Willmar moving toward shutting down city buildings again due to COVID-19
The Willmar City Council approved a motion Monday night to direct staff to reduce public access to city-owned buildings through January, in an effort to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Cases are rising swiftly and members of the council wanted to make sure they were doing enough to protect the health and safety of not only the public, but staff as well.
WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council, in a 5-3 vote Monday night, directed staff to restrict public access to city buildings through January 2021, in hopes of trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
The new closures will impact buildings such as City Hall, the City Auditorium, Willmar Community Center and the Willmar Civic Center.
"We need to take drastic measures," said Mayor Marv Calvin.
According to a WCCO news report referenced by Councilor Fernando Alvarado, which included an interview with Carris Health co-CEO Cindy Firkins-Smith, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Kandiyohi County is running between 10 to 30 percent a day, Alvarado said, quoting the report.
Carris Health executives and Kandiyohi County health officials are planning a news conference late Wednesday morning "regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation in Kandiyohi County."
"If we have to close city offices down to keep people safe, I believe that is the prudent thing to do," Alvarado said. "I think people are going to understand this is a real serious concern. We have to be proactive and set the example for our community."
The vote was 5 in favor, 3 against. Councilors Julie Asmus, Rick Fagerlie and Andrew Plowman voted against the motion. Asmus had concerns on how the new restrictions would impact the Willmar Community Center and seniors who receive meals there.
There were also questions raised on how these restrictions would impact activities at city facilities, such as Willmar Warhawk hockey games at the Willmar Civic Center.
In a interview with the West Central Tribune after the meeting, Calvin said the public will still be able to enter the buildings if they make appointments for essential services, which in his opinion would include picking up meals at the Community Center.
Calvin said it will be up to City Administrator Brian Gramentz and department heads how to act on the council direction, though Calvin said he expects the new restrictions to go into place over the next few days.
"There are a lot of things that will be affected," Calvin said.
Gramentz said he welcomed any guidance from the council on how the city can help decrease the spread. Gramentz said he will be speaking with city staff over the next few days on how each department will be able to dial back in-person activities at the city.
The mayor and council members said they understand this decision and the impacts might be controversial to some, but they said the public health and safety aspects overrule those issues.
"We have a duty to protect the welfare and public safety of our communities," Calvin said.
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