By Jessica Mathews /

The Howell City Council has decided to hold off again on possibly declaring a state of emergency to move to virtual meetings.

A resolution originally put forward by Councilman Dr. Bob Ellis was again discussed during Monday night’s meeting. It would have the City declare a state of emergency so that Council and other public bodies like the planning commission and the library board could meet virtually if needed again as cases and hospitalizations continue to climb locally.

Ellis stated Livingston is still a high-risk area and the county is averaging 51 new cases per day and had 7 deaths in the last two weeks – which he felt was probably an undercount because a lot of people who are sick might go to hospitals in Ann Arbor, Lansing or other. Ellis said the county has 9% test positivity, which is considered a high rate. He added that St. John’s ICU had four open beds and 6 COVID patients. While there was no specific data for the City, Ellis said it seems like cases have somewhat leveled out but hospitalizations have been increasing.

Ellis noted masks mandates are beyond the city’s jurisdiction and up to the Health Department. He clarified the purpose of the resolution was to potentially meet virtually and not in a large group that potentially exposes everybody.

Mayor Nick Proctor commented that he’s comfortable with meeting in person and feels it’s a good discussion to keep having at meetings but he’s personally not seeing the emergency yet. He said his mind could change based on numbers or if there are staff outbreaks or others are associated with meetings and he’s looking to the state and county as experts and wants to see where things are in two weeks.

The City has not had any recent outbreaks but it was stated during the meeting that one employee is currently out. The memo notes further that management is continually encouraging staff to follow the City’s COVID policy and changing conditions. The City strongly encourages the use of masks and has custom masks on order to provide more incentive for people to wear them. Various other prevention measures are also in place including sanitizing and social distancing among others. Signage like that pictured is also up throughout City Hall.

A memo states that the City currently has a record of slightly under 25% of staff being vaccinated.

City staff has had conversations with the county Health Department and noted there have not been any substantial changes in recommendations – it still strongly encourages the use of masks and other encouragements but no mandates.

Councilman Steve Manor said the COVID situation is only getting worse, especially as school continues on and the weather turns dark and stormy. He commented that there are experts at the county Health Department but they’re not allowed to advance their expert advice or actions and it’s no secret they’re working for a body that’s opposed to any mandates or emergency declarations. That reference was toward the county Board of Commissioners. Manor added that while the Health Department is filled with expert people, “they are muzzled and restricted to advising and strongly encouraging”.

The Village of Pinckney has declared a state of emergency until the end of the year to meet virtually if needed. City Attorney Dennis Perkins commented that after that, the legislature would have to take action to satisfy open meetings act requirements for virtual meetings after January 1st but lawmakers aren’t moving.

COVID-19 updates will be a recurring agenda item at future meetings.