WATERLOO — Officials and residents will again be able to attend Waterloo City Council meetings in person at City Hall starting in May.
The decision was announced at Monday’s meeting by City Clerk Kelley Felchle. She said the city already sent out public hearing notices for April meetings that tell people they can only participate virtually. Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said the city will continue offering people the option to attend virtually via video platform Zoom.
“We still don’t know yet which council members may want to attend in person,” Hart said. “COVID has changed the way that we do business overall, so having multiple ways to be able to have people engaged — we’re hoping that we can continue to do that in the future.”
Hart acknowledged technical difficulties, like poor sound quality, can present challenges for virtual attendees. He said the city is working to get “all the kinks worked out” to offer the “best engagement situation for people that may not be able to attend” in person.
Hart said he worked with the city’s COVID-19 response team to examine data among city staff, like COVID-19 positivity rates and vaccination rates. He said he relied on information about community infection rates from the Black Hawk County Health Department.
Margaret Klein, a City Council member, consistently asked Hart at meetings when the city would return to offering an in-person option. She said Monday she was disappointed the change could not happen before May, but said she is happy to return to the chambers at City Hall nonetheless.
“Really, I’m the mayor of close to 70,000 people, and their protection, their sanctity and their well-being is something that I take very serious,” Hart said. “And that’s my focus.”
Hart said he meets once per week with the COVID-19 response team. He did not share a specific infection rate threshold that guided the team’s decision to allow in-person attendance at City Council meetings.
“We’re at moderate risk right now, so to me, that gives me very good indicators that we’re trending in the right direction,” Hart said.
Hart said he could not share COVID-19 vaccination rates among city staff due to HIPAA, a federal law that protects personal health information. He said the city is planning a vaccination event for its employees in the near future.
When the virtual meeting decision was announced, Black Hawk County saw a 14-day average COVID-19 positivity rate of 17.4%. As of Wednesday, local data shows the county had a 4.8% 14-day average positivity rate. The positivity rate is calculated by dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of tests.
People can register to attend meetings virtually by visiting the city’s website. Comments for meetings can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. People can watch live meetings on the city’s YouTube page called WaterlooCommunityTV or Mediacom channels 17 or 74-4.