Council member Jeannie Thompson brought up the topic following the liquor store report at the Oct. 13 council meeting.
“With clientele being slow and the numbers (of COVID-19) being so high in the county, Hubbard County was at 31.16 percent last week, are we doing the wise thing leaving our bar part open?” she asked.
Council member Rich Johnson is a teacher at Nevis School. “High school is distance learning 100 percent,” he said. “If it’s not safe for us to gather in the high school at all, even at 50 percent capacity wearing masks, gathering in a bar situation where masks are not required and are not really being worn, I don’t think that’s the responsible thing. I think we should probably shut the bar down.”
Thompson said she recently took a trip to Las Vegas. “There were very, very, very few places that let you be anywhere without a mask on,” she said. “You could sit at the bar with a drink in front of you could have your mask off, but you could not go talk to anyone or go to the restroom without putting your mask on.”
She contrasted the behavior in Las Vegas with what she had witnessed in the Nevis Municipal Liquor Store.
“The couple of times I was in the bar, I saw people sitting in big crowds close to each other not wearing masks,” she said. “I just don’t think our patrons are paying as much attention to the rules here, and our case numbers are growing across the state. Hugo’s requires a mask to get in, but people pull them down once they’re in the store and no one says anything.”
“I was in to make a purchase at the liquor store two weeks ago and it was shoulder to shoulder all around the bar,” Johnson said. “One guy not wearing a mask was walking out of off-sale and I raised an eyebrow and he looked like he was going to jump on me. There’s an awful lot of frightening anger around this stuff.”
Thompson said staff can only do so much to enforce the guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing if people choose not to follow
“I get torn between our responsibility to police other people from themselves,” Thompson said. “But we don’t want to see 200 cases (of COVID-19) traced back to the Nevis Muni because we’ve got people not wearing masks. That’s not good for our small community or our business.”
Liquor store manager Erin Rhoades named other businesses in Nevis where patrons aren’t following the guidelines.
“If a private business wants to do that and allow it to spread, that’s on them,” Johnson said. “There are positive cases in our community very close by.”
Council member Sue Gray said she is one of those who is vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19. “It’s very difficult,” she said. “I don’t go anywhere except this meeting and do others by Zoom. I do curbside at the grocery store or go in so early in the morning no one’s there. I would appreciate it if more people wore masks around here. It’s very difficult. We’ve already lost one family member and just found out two more family members down in South Carolina have COVID. It disturbs me to see numbers go up every day and they’ve just gone up exponentially. Just look at Bemidji. But we can’t change other people’s attitudes. This pandemic is a situation none of us have ever gone through before. Unfortunately, it’s become so politicized.”
“My gut says that we need to not be open, at least taking it week by week, looking at numbers,” Thompson said. “That’s a very hard thing to say because it affects people’s jobs, lives and socialization. But at the same time, I see the other side of the coin where, if we’re the only one and no one else is doing it and the state is opening up more, there will be backlash.”
“The right thing to do is not always the popular or easy thing to do,” Johnson said. “When the high school goes back to in-person, that would be the time to open the bar. When people ask me why I’m wearing a mask, why am I afraid of the virus, I tell them I wear a mask because I don’t want to be responsible for exposing someone’s grandmother.”
“Knowing this isn’t going to get any better for a while, what kind of groundwork would we lay to reopen?” Thompson asked.
Johnson said the guidelines for resuming in-person learning is 10 cases over the past two weeks per 10,000 residents.
“We have a county with a population of roughly 20,000, and most of our cases here are in the 20-40 age group,” he added. “We could make the decision of when to open the bar at each month’s council meeting, based on the numbers.”
Rhoades questioned how they would staff the bar if they are continually closing and opening.
“The extra $600 per month unemployment is gone,” she said. “They will have to find other jobs.”
“My gut says close, but my business side realizes it is difficult,” Thompson said.
Johnson made a motion to close the bar side and lay off part-time workers, but keep the off-sale open. Rhoades and assistant manager Heather Luukinen will continue to work full time. The motion passed unanimously.
“I think that’s about the hardest thing I had to do, sitting on the council, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Johnson said. “People will probably be mad at me, but come summer or fall, realize it was the right thing to do. We will re-evaluate monthly.”
“It’s a very difficult decision but something we have to do,” Gray said. “People’s lives are at risk.”
In other business, the council:
Heard that the liquor store is in the process of obtaining bids for replacing the back door and checking into whether crash bars are required to meet fire code. They are also looking into bids for one commercial air conditioning unit to replace the seven small, older units that have created water condensation problems, with three inches of water in the ductwork dripping on tables before next summer.
Learned from Rhoades that Oktoberfest did not have as many people attending as expected due to COVID-19. “People are a little scared to go out with rising numbers,” she said.
Heard seasonal residents have been contacting deputy Josh Oswald to check on their places while they are gone for the winter.
Declined a request to waive late fees for a resident because the late fees were incurred prior to COVID-19.
Tabled a decision on what to do with Wildwood Avenue until more information is known regarding all of the issues involved. The city will continue plowing and maintaining the road while the matter is researched.
The next regular council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9 in the council meeting room at city hall.