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'Small sacrifice': Walz unveils statewide mask order to stem COVID-19

Jul 22, 2020 11:23AM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz announces a statewide order Wednesday, requiring Minnesotans to wear masks in public indoor gathering spaces. The statewide order is set to take effect Saturday.   Photo:  Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

By Brian Bakst from Minnesota Public Radio News - July 22, 2020

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced a statewide order requiring Minnesotans to wear masks in restaurants, stores and other public indoor gathering spaces to stem the spread of COVID-19 and put the state on a path back to normalcy.

“This is the quickest way to ending the COVID pandemic,” he told reporters. “It is the surest way to getting us to the therapeutics and vaccines” while continuing to reopen the economy.

If 90 to 95 percent of Minnesotans complied, businesses could stay open, kids could return safely to school buildings, and we "get back that life that we all miss so much,” he said.

Under the order, businesses will have to post notice of the new regulations and ensure patrons comply. Children age 5 and younger are exempt. Cities with tougher ordinances can go beyond the state indoor-only rules. 

It’s set to take effect Saturday. 

Walz has been signaling for days that such an order was coming. On Tuesday, he noted that businesses support such a uniform move as do care providers and the state’s health leaders. 

A graph showing the number of COVID-19 positive cases to date

More than half of states now require the use of masks or face coverings in public settings. Republican governors in Indiana and Ohio also posted statewide mask wearing orders Wednesday.

Walz said he decided to move now on a statewide order after watching the percentage of positive tests climb the past few weeks in Minnesota from under 4 percent to about 5 percent.

The governor compared the inconvenience of wearing a mask to wearing seat belts in cars and preventing smoking in indoor spaces, changes in behavior required by government that ultimately saved lives.

“This is a small sacrifice for a potential big gain,” he said. 

Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, have said a statewide mandate would be a mistake. 

Last week, Walz told MPR News that he was hoping to get legislative Republicans to buy in. On Wednesday, however, Gazelka slammed Walz’s coming order.

“Once again, I find myself asking why one-size-fits-all is the only option for a mask mandate,” he said in a statement. “Businesses and individuals are already requiring and wearing masks in most situations, so the mandate feels like a heavy-handed, broad approach that won’t work well for every situation. 

No ‘mask police’

Exemptions to the order include:

  • People with health conditions that make it difficult to tolerate wearing a face covering

  • Any person who has trouble breathing or unable to remove the face covering without help

  • People who at work with jobs where wearing a face covering would create a safety hazard as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines

Officials emphasized that children age 2 and younger should never wear a mask.

Cities and towns representing nearly 30 percent of Minnesota’s population have approved local mask requirements.

Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the state is working local chambers of commerce to make masks available to businesses to give to customers who don’t have one. 

Grove emphasized that officials don’t want businesses to be in a position of being “mask police.” 

If a patron says she can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, store owners can allow it without delving into deeper explanations, he said. Bar and restaurant patrons don’t have to keep masks on as they eat and drink at a table with their party.

The order does allow for a petty misdemeanor with possible fine up to $100. Businesses could face steeper fines for noncompliance.

Walz, though, said he wants authorities “handing out masks, not tickets” and that businesses should not escalate confrontations, adding: "We don't want someone to accidentally get famous on the internet because they're throwing a tantrum in Trader Joe's."

To read the original article and see live coverage of Walz' announcement, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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