Masks will soon be required inside Northfield public facilities.
The Northfield City Council on July 6 unanimously directed City Administrator Ben Martig to implement the requirement. The city is preparing the details surrounding policies, education, signage and materials.
The facilities expected to be included in the requirement include City Hall, Northfield Municipal Liquor Store, Northfield Public Library (currently required), police station, pool locker room areas, Northfield Ice Arena (inside the building but not on the ice) and public works maintenance building.
“There would be some cases where there would likely be exceptions to the implementation such as elections at City Hall where we are not allowed under state law to mandate wearing of face coverings,” City Administrator Ben Martig said in a report delivered prior to the meeting to the council and city staff. “Additionally, there would likely be other exceptions such as people who have medical conditions.”
Facial covering masks will be provided for people who need them for free. Currently, masks are available at the library for the public and staff. The masks are expected to be paid for through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The city could consider a city-wide mask ordinance within the next couple weeks.
Public expresses support, questions for the plan
In a submitted comment prior to the meeting, Northfielder Joy Amunrud presented a petition signed by over 760 people requesting the city require face coverings in indoor public spaces to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She added the requirement would protect seniors, help the economy, local hospitals and students returning to school.
“The emerging data and recommendations from the health field support this measure,” she said. “As a school social worker and local physician, we do too.”
Laura Meyers, Imminent Brewing Tap Room owner and manager, said although she is in favor of the plan “in many ways,” she is also concerned about the details and proposed execution of the proposal. Meyers added the council needs to consider who will enforce the rule, and she called for individuals to be held responsible for not wearing a mask to ease the process for businesses. Meyers also asked the city to help the private sector with financial expenses and other costs incurred by installing signage and having disposable masks available so they don’t have to turn customers away.
“We’re still surprised at the number of people who walk up without their masks and have done no scouting of the rules or requirements at our place,” she said.
Meyers called for the council to consider the possible impact of wearing masks for people who have severe conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Council calls for Walz to issue indoor mask mandate
Councilors unanimously requested Gov. Tim Walz issue a statewide mandate on masks and face coverings for indoor settings. Currently, the governor is strongly encouraging people to wear masks indoors when social distancing is not possible.
In taking action, councilors said too many people are not wearing masks as certainty grows among health professionals that social distancing and mask wearing are preventive measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I would be glad for Northfield to join in encouraging the government to do as much as they can,” said Councilor Suzie Nakasian.
In also expressing support, fellow Councilor Clarice Grenier Grabau said COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black and Latino households and is exacerbating existing societal inequalities. She said social distancing and face coverings must continue until there is a vaccine or another successful treatment is established.
“It’s a public health issue,” she said.“The science is clear.”
Midsize to large Minnesota cities that have recently tightened face mask requirements include Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Winona and Rochester. The city of Blaine has implemented mandatory face coverings in government buildings.
Locally, St. Olaf and Carleton colleges are implementing indoor facial requirements.
Although Mayor Rhonda Pownell supported the measure, she called for the council to ensure the needs of the business community, health care system, colleges and K-12 students are considered in the process. In involving those voices, Pownell said a cultural shift could take place to motivate more people to wear masks.
In response, Grabau said while she supports speaking to stakeholders, the council’s final decision on any face mask policy should be based on guidance issued by the Minnesota departments of Health and Education.
To Councilor Jessica Peterson White, owner of the downtown business Content Bookstore, face mask requirements are good for business. She added the only way a full economic recovery can take place is if the public feels safe.
“This is a great step for us to take,” she said.