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Our View: Desperate need for COVID leadership includes Duluth

From the editorial: "If there ever was a time for strong leadership and timely response, especially from those we’ve elected to serve us, it is now. ... The generic, anonymous statement from City Hall this week, in response to legitimate questions that demand answers, fell frustratingly far short."

City Hall pic
Duluth City Hall.
File / News Tribune

An emergency mask mandate for Duluth failed to get the unanimous council vote it needed for passage Monday. Councilors instead pointed out that Mayor Emily Larson already has “executive powers to safeguard the community as needed during the COVID-19 health crisis,” with the authority to “issue public health mandates,” as a resolution stated that the council did pass. In the resolution, councilors urged the mayor to “exercise” her powers.

But does that sound like the City Council offering a “unanimous vote of confidence for the response to date by Mayor Larson,” as her administration claimed in a statement to the media Tuesday morning? Does urging the mayor to do something, anything, sound like “(speaking) to the hard and successful work Mayor Larson and the city’s leadership team have done to gauge risk, protect workers and the community and position Duluth to withstand the ever-changing challenges,” as the administration’s statement also said?

Hardly. While individual councilors have expressed such sentiments, and as true as they may be, they weren’t in the unanimous vote taken Monday by the City Council.

Nonetheless, the inaccurate claim that they were was made in an email to “media partners” Tuesday morning from Duluth Public Information Officer Kate Van Daele. The practically anonymous statement — it included comments as direct quotes that weren’t attributed to any individual but to the “City of Duluth” as a whole — was in response to “emails and texts” from reporters seeking comment from the mayor, Van Daele said, in response to the council’s action. To a News Tribune reporter specifically, Van Daele emailed, “Mayor Larson will not be doing interviews today … (and) will be available for interviews later this week.”

If there ever was a time for strong leadership and timely response, especially from those we’ve elected to serve us, it is now, during what is starting to seem like a never-ending public health emergency — and with infections and hospitalizations rising to record levels and emergency rooms and intensive care units overrun by sickness and suffering.

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Instead, a no comment from the mayor and a generic, inaccurate, and self-inflating statement emailed by the city’s designated spokeswoman only contributed to the pandemic’s frustrations and the dearth of clear information and reliable explanations needed so we can come together to take effective, appropriate action.

The emergency mask mandate was brought by At Large Councilor Terese Tomanek out of an apparently sincere and well-placed desire to take action that she hoped would help. Duluth had a mask mandate last year, and numbers went down. Minneapolis and St. Paul recently brought theirs back. But Tomanek failed to make a convincing enough argument that face coverings in public indoor spaces will make enough of a difference to slow the spread of the coronavirus and its variants and relieve the crush on our ERs and ICUs — especially with cloth masks recently deemed no longer good enough against the omicron variant, according to health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The urgency to do something — to do what we can to help bring an end to this public health crisis so we can return to some semblance of normalcy — walks in lockstep with uncertainty. And that is exactly why we need, now more than ever, responsive leadership and timely, frank answers with accurate, reasonable explanations and information. So we can all work together.

The generic, anonymous statement from City Hall this week, in response to legitimate questions that demand answers, fell frustratingly far short.

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