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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and delta variant have prompted the Saint Paul City Council, Planning Commission and most other city boards, commissions and committees to continue to meet virtually through the end of November.

The City Council had hoped to be back to in-person meetings after Labor Day, and the Planning Commission and its committees on September 1. However, rising COVID case numbers prompted a reassessment. Mayor Melvin Carter extended the city’s pandemic emergency on August 31, and the council ratified that action on September 1.

City Council members are planning to continue offering the public the option to testify virtually, and are investing in technology to improve that process. Most meeting testimony since March 2020 has been in writing, and only a few hearings have had virtual spoken testimony.

Saint Paul has been under several local emergency declarations since March 15, 2020. The state let its emergency orders expire this summer. With the emergency declaration, the City Council, boards, commissions and committees can continue to meet virtually and be exempted from the Minnesota Open Meetings Law.

According to planning commissioner Wendy Underwood, virtual meetings have provided the opportunity for more participation by the public. Commission and committee meetings are held during the day, which makes it more difficult for people to participate if they have work or child care conflicts.

Eleven of the 18 Planning Commission members have been appointed since the pandemic started in March 2020 and have never participated in in-person meetings.

The Ramsey County Board and Saint Paul School Board have been meeting in-person since this summer, with the meetings livestreamed and recorded. County and city staff members are working in a mix of remote and in-office models.

 

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Eleven of the 18 Planning Commission members have been appointed since the pandemic started in March 2020 and have never participated in in-person meetings.

District councils still meeting virtually or outdoors

Local district councils are also continuing to meet virtually, although the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation has held some in-person meetings outdoors. District councils are also having limited, if any, office hours.

The Highland District Council (HDC) had planned to start in-person committee meetings in August, but delayed that due to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. HDC executive director Kathy Carruth said the council will reassess that decision this month.

The Macalester-Groveland Community Council also will announce a decision this month on how it plans to meet in the future.

The Summit Hill Association plans to hold its annual meeting and elections as part of an outdoor fall festival on October 14 at Linwood Park, if weather permits. Otherwise, the meeting will be held online.

Saint Paul also continues to require people to wear facemasks in its buildings. In July, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission of the virus. Ramsey County’s transmission level has been listed as substantial or high since July.

Saint Paul employees and visitors do not have to cover their faces while outdoors, unless it is specifically requested. The city is also encouraging businesses to implement facemask requirements for everyone indoors.

Regular COVID-19 updates can be found at ramseycounty.us/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-information.

— Jane McClure

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