The re-emergence of COVID-19 caused much debate among members of the Ripon Common Council last week Tuesday.
The Common Council voted on a masking policy for city buildings and discussed potentially creating a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for city workers.
While it approved a masking policy, it’s unclear if there are enough votes to pass a vaccination requirement.
The Common Council voted 7-1 to make masks mandatory inside city buildings for both city employees and members of the public, with Ald. John Splitt casting the lone “no” vote.
Under the policy, there are exemptions for children under 2 years old, those who are incapacitated and for individuals with mental health or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering.
The masking policy was put on the Common Council agenda due to rising levels of COVID-19 in the community and the region.
Mayor Ted Grant explained that the current COVID-19 surge began in mid-July, whereas last year’s surge began in mid-August, noting cases are three weeks ahead of where they were at this time last year.
“The curve is actually steeper than last year as well,” Grant said as he showed council members a graph illustrating the recent surge in cases. “If we keep going in this direction, we will surpass the numbers we had for last year. We need to try to head that off and this is the bare minimum of what we can do as a city.”
City Administrator Adam Sonntag noted city employees were already wearing masks when within 6 feet of each other or when interacting with the public.
The city says members of the public who refuse to wear a face covering will not be allowed to enter city facilities and will be asked to leave.
It will make arrangements to facilitate city business with members of the public who do not comply with the indoor masking requirement.
Additionally, the policy makes exemptions for situations in which wearing a mask could have a negative impact on employees’ safety, such as when they are welding or grinding.
Possible vaccination policy sparks debate
COVID-19 reared its head later in the meeting, when the Common Council debated whether to require city employees to get vaccinated.
President Joe Biden recently announced plans to require federal workers, health-care providers and workers at private businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly.
Grant noted the city has fewer than 100 employees, meaning it would have to pass its own vaccination requirement for employees.
According to local public health officials, the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces the likelihood of someone being hospitalized due to coronavirus.
In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that 11.5 fully vaccinated people out of 100,000 are getting hospitalized, while 98.5 not fully vaccinated people per 100,000 are getting hospitalized.
“The only way to keep everyone safe is to get them vaccinated,” Grant said.
Although the city doesn’t know the exact number of employees who have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, Sonntag said it has a general idea.
He noted those employees have had ample opportunities to get vaccinated.
However, it’s unlikely that the Common Council would have enough votes to pass a vaccination policy as multiple aldermen spoke against a vaccine requirement.
“I have significant reservations regarding creating a vaccination policy for the city,” Ald. Al Schraeder said. “The federal government can do what they want, but that’s going to be challenged significantly. I don’t think we are in a position to do this with our 59 employees at this time. People have the choice to be vaccinated or not.”
Meanwhile, Ald. Dave Gallops said he was against mandating the vaccine, but believes the city should “do everything it can” to encourage its employees to get vaccinated.
However, Ald. Jolene Schatzinger was in favor of creating a vaccination policy, noting the vaccination requirements that she’s seen do include exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
“We could have employees that can’t come to work because they’re very sick, so if we have a measure that could keep our employees working more … it makes sense for the city,” she said.
Conversely, Splitt agreed with Schraeder, noting, “It boils down to freedom of choice.”
Grant said the other side of that argument is “Does an unvaccinated person have the right to spread the disease, whether they know it or not?”
Alds. Howard Hansen and Paige Kane also were against requiring city employees to get vaccinated.
Kane said she didn’t feel comfortable regulating someone else’s medical decisions, while Hansen pointed to antibodies found in those who have previously had COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Alds. Jim Werch and Jonathan Gatzke did not speak on the topic of requiring city employees to get vaccinated.
During the mayor’s communications and appointments portion of the meeting, Grant delivered an appeal to the Ripon community, urging people to get vaccinated and asking businesses to reinstate masking requirements in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
He added that area hospitals are being pushed to capacity, making it even more important to get vaccinated.
“We are in a war against this virus, and we are currently losing,” Grant said. “During World War I and World War II, we as Americans sacrificed for the good of our country. Compared to those sacrifices, getting a couple of little shots in your arm is nothing.
“Be patriotic, get vaccinated; protect our children, get vaccinated; protect your family, get vaccinated; protect yourself, get vaccinated; if you want life to go back to normal, get vaccinated.”