The Healdsburg City Council will start conducting hybrid meetings, in-person and live on Zoom, beginning Nov. 15, the day of the council’s next regular meeting. Proof of vaccination will be required for entry, a negative COVID-19 test will not be allowed as a substitute and face masks will be required at all times.
Council chamber capacity will also be reduced to 50% and chairs will be spaced to allow for social distancing.
While many city council members were enthusiastic about the idea of once again meeting in-person on the dais, settling on the logistics of how to do so safely was a tricky, hour-long discussion.
Healdsburg City Manager Jeff Kay had prepared a few protocol options, such as requiring masks and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, for the council to consider at their meeting on Nov. 1.
“We’re providing an opportunity tonight for the council to have a discussion about what your collective comfort level is,” Kay said.
However, the challenge with that discussion was that council members all had varying comfort levels.
Councilmember Ariel Kelley said she is hesitant to jump back in but would feel better about it with a proof of vaccination requirement. She said she wouldn’t want to allow a negative COVID-19 test as a substitute for proof of vaccination for entry to city hall.
“The test is just one snapshot of time, but it can very quickly no longer be relevant if you are exposed after that moment in time and so it’s definitely not a fool proof system and unfortunately we don’t have the testing advancements in terms of timeline and turnaround for PCR tests. I don’t think negative tests would be something I would want to allow as a way to mitigate risk,” Kelley said.
Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez said would also feel good about having a double layer of protection of requiring and checking proof of vaccinations for entry. He said it’s also important to him that the council has a clearly outlined protocol for attending meetings safely.
Kay said the city could explore setting up a QR code or a system where folks submit their vaccination information prior to meetings in order for city staff to check vaccination statuses.
Councilmember Skylaer Palacios didn’t agree with requiring proof of vaccination in order to attend meetings in-person and said she’d rather wait for a year to resume in-person meetings.
“I’m not in agreeance about the vaccine pass to be able to get in, but I am in agreeance with all else,” Palacios said of the protocols. She noted that while she’s not vaccinated for several reasons, she gets tested weekly for COVID-19.
“I get tested weekly so I don’t feel like I pose a threat to people and I disagree with that sentiment in the media, so I’m just really worried about creating a division. I think we have a highly vaccinated population in Healdsburg, but I am just highly uncomfortable with that decision,” she said.
Palacios added that she wouldn’t want a situation that discourages public council meeting attendance.
Councilmember David Hagele echoed Kelley about the timing difficulty with PCR COVID tests and said requiring those to provide only proof of vaccination for entry to a meeting adds an additional layer of protection.
He pointed out that those who can’t provide proof of vaccination can simply watch the meeting via Zoom. Hagele and Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell pointed out that having the Zoom option for meetings is also a good option for families with kids or for people who don’t want to rush through their dinner to get to city hall.
Kelley mentioned that having the ability to also conduct meetings through Zoom will also come in handy if any of the council members have to quarantine or if there’s a dramatic increase in cases.
“Whether we’re all together on the screen or if some of us are on the screen and some of us are in person we’re still a team and you’re a very valuable member of that team and that doesn’t change,” Hagele said “I think the ultimate goal here is to make sure that no voices are diminished and in fact, they’re all amplified including (those) from the public with this hybrid model.”
“There’s no easy answer to this clearly, but I don’t think we are discouraging people from participating in the meetings through this action,” Mitchell said.
Kay said the council meeting protocols will also likely apply to city commission meetings as well.