Restaurant masks

Beginning Aug. 1, the city of Northfield will require masks wearing in most public places. The city joins others in Minnesota, including Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud. (Metro Creative Images)

The city of Northfield will require face coverings in most public spaces starting Aug. 1.

It's part of a growing list of Minnesota cities mandating masks to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Unanimous Northfield City Council action on Tuesday means restaurants and bars must require customers to wear a face covering when they are not seated at their table. Also, retail businesses will require customers to wear masks within their establishments and mandate employee face coverings when they are within 6 feet of another person. The ordinance covers public transportation services and people who are not socially distancing in gyms, fitness centers, places of worship, and sports and entertainment facilities.

Anyone who fails to comply with the ordinance will be asked to leave the establishment, and if the person refuses to do so, law enforcement could enforce trespassing laws. Businesses not in compliance could lose their city license. Fines are not planned for individuals or businesses, but that could be revised.

The ordinance would not cover people within election facilities, schools and colleges, personal care services/salons that are meeting current state requirements, medical facilities, crisis shelters, soup kitchens or similar establishments, children 8 years old or younger, those who are actively eating or drinking, people temporarily removing the face coverings for ID purposes, those who are unable to wear one due to a medical issue, disability or developmental problem, people who are speaking to an audience, the deaf or hard of hearing, youth sports participants, and in county, state and federal government buildings.

The plan is for the order to end in accordance with a lifting of the emergency declaration or governor action.

City Administrator Ben Martig said a primary goal of the ordinance is to prevent hospitals from being overrun and ensuring  an adequate supply of protective equipment, and to minimize the potential risk of further adverse economic impacts continued shutdowns could pose for local businesses and employees. He said scientific evidence is increasing that cloth face coverings are essential to combating COVID-19, noting there are signs that the virus is highly contagious and has a long incubation period.

In introducing the motion, Councilor Suzie Nakasian called the measure “a very important step to take,” and suggested people approach complying as a way to protect each other.

Although he expressed support for the mandate, Councilor David DeLong acknowledged there will be people who push against the mandate. He suggested the city offer people without masks face coverings before shifting to fines if the suggestion is declined.

In response, City Attorney Chris Hood said cities like Mankato and Duluth have taken aggressive approaches in ensuring compliance, while other cities have allowed businesses to basically police themselves by at first requesting customers wearing masks before contacting law enforcement if they refuse to do so and don’t leave.

Northfield Police Department Deputy Chief Mark Elliott, who will become the police chief next month after current leader Monte Nelson retires, said if the city opts to enforce fines, that would necessitate the creation of an appeals system for those who are reprimanded.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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