Frustration Brewing Over Maskless People on Both Sides of Grand River

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Gary Caldwell for ELi.

Pedestrians wearing masks in downtown East Lansing.

As Sallie Kribbet left the Charles Street ramp last week, a group of about six unmasked construction workers huddled around the exit scanner. She returned later, only to find a crowd again congregating around it – primarily unmasked individuals, including one person smoking. A City employee was part of the group and had a bandana around his mouth and nose.

Kribbet lives in the Center City condos, above CVS and Omi Sushi and attached to the Charles Street parking garage, which is currently undergoing repairs.

“Where does someone like me go to report the contractors at the Charles Street ramp or my home? I was told by the city that the problem was that the contractors were not employees of East Lansing.” Kribbet told ELi.

Kribbet is hardly alone in expressing frustration about lack of masks.

At 12:01 a.m. on Monday, August 10, by order of Mayor Aaron Stephens, masks became mandatory in public spaces of the Downtown Development Authority district, which includes the Charles Street garage.

The next night, at City Council’s meeting, the Council affirmed the mask requirement and City Manager George Lahanas outlined the City’s public health plans made in conjunction with MSU, the Ingham County Health Department, and the Responsible Hospitality Council (RHC), a trade group of downtown bars and restaurants.

These plans include forming a “We Have You Covered” campaign, through which ambassadors wearing MSU-branded shirts will approach those without masks to speak to them about the importance of masking and to provide free masks.

But now, it seems uncertain how those plans will really play out.

Kribbet was given a solution to her specific problem: She was advised to call the parking office when she felt it was unsafe to roll down her window to use the scanner so close to unmasked people. But she remains frustrated that masking in the DDA is not being enforced.

She has contacted Council members Lisa Babcock and Jessy Gregg, the latter of whom told her to submit her complaint to Council so they would be aware of her concerns.

When asked about mask enforcers, Mikell Frey, the City of East Lansing’s communications coordinator, responded, “Seasonal, part-time employees already employed with the City will be serving as paid mask ambassadors, and being an MSU student is not an eligibility requirement for the job. The ambassadors will engage with all downtown visitors.”

The idea behind the “mask ambassadors” is to limit confrontational police actions in the community – another social flashpoint right now.

Said Frey, “Currently, the plan is to take an educational approach instead of an enforcement approach. This approach is based on the feedback that has been received from City Council and community members regarding limiting police interactions with community members for minor infractions.”

The mask policy for the DDA Zone had been made in part to promote consistency in practice across Grand River Ave. between East Lansing and MSU, but ELi has received reports that many have been wandering campus unmasked.

Jennifer Castner, an MSU employee and East Lansing resident, wrote to President Stanley, Mayor Aaron Stephens, and East Lansing High School Principal Andy Wells, copying ELi and MSU University Physician David Weismantel, about the lack of masking on campus.

“I encountered the ENTIRE ELHS cross-country team running without masks down the River Trail, one of the most heavily-trafficked paths on campus,” wrote Castner. “They passed me repeatedly, huffing and puffing as one does when running, and they did not practice distancing at all.”

Another woman, who was masked and photographing the scene, told Castner that they were “given an exemption.”

Castner further stated that she saw many MSU contractors and employees unmasked. She reported that one contractor told her, “No, we aren’t [exempt from the mask policy] but I can’t breathe in one while I’m working.” 

As she left campus to walk home, Castner reported that she saw “multiple contractors outdoors in parking lots and outside apartment buildings in the DDA – zero masks. Pedestrians, cyclists everywhere – no masks.”

Castner closed her letter to the local leadership by saying, “IF YOU DON’T FIND A WAY TO MEANINGFULLY MODEL (employees, athletes, contractors) AND ENFORCE THE DESIRED BEHAVIOR, top to bottom, we will be in this awful situation for a really long time.”

Castner told ELi that she had received no response to her letter except from ELi, but ELi was able to gather some information from MSU Spokesperson Emily Guerrant.

According to Guerrant, “There are exemptions for those that are exercising (such as runners) and for some of our facilities workers who have projects outside and are physically distant from those around them.”

The full list of exemptions can be found here.

In follow-up correspondence, Guerrant stated that MSU does “not have [designated] areas for exercise without masks.”

MSU will take both an educational and enforcement approach to enforcing the mask mandate. Student Services at MSU is also developing an ambassador program, but mask violations are actually considered misconduct that can be reported to the University.

“For MSU students or employees who violate the face covering policies, they will be subject to disciplinary actions in the same manner as violations or other universities policies,” said Guerrant.

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