Northfielders and those across the state are now required to wear masks to combat COVID-19.

Unanimous Northfield City Council action to implement a citywide mask mandate came July 21. The following day, Gov. Tim Walz ordered a statewide mask mandate for stores and indoor gathering places to slow the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Star Tribune, the rule applies to most indoor spaces outside people’s homes, and to outdoor spaces where workers cannot maintain social distancing. However, there are exceptions. Diners need to wear masks when walking around restaurants but not when eating at tables. Office workers don’t need to when socially distancing. Children under 2 are exempt.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, although enforcement is not the goal of the mandate, Minnesotans who fail to comply could receive a petty misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $100.

A primary goal of the mandate 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. State officials have said scientific evidence is increasing that cloth face coverings are essential to combating COVID-19.

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

Locally, the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism is distributing free government-issued masks from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday in the Neuger Communications parking lot on Division Street.

“The Chamber has been and will continue to be committed to our community,” President Lisa Peterson said in an email. “We have supported our businesses throughout the pandemic in various ways. This is another value we can share with them.”

Hospital, college leaders express support

Officials from Carleton and St. Olaf colleges and Northfield Hospital & Clinics wrote letters of support for the city-wide mandate prior to the July 21 meeting.

“As we continue to fight this virus and the related pandemic, we have very few tools at our disposal,” NH+C President and CEO Steve Underdahl wrote. “Distancing, mask wearing and hygiene are the best public health steps we can take. Even though Minnesota is doing better than some other states at the moment, the potential to lose ground again is a real threat.”

Echoing statements he made at a hospital board meeting last month, Underdahl said wearing masks is now considered part of a political, cultural and ideological battle but is still a public health tool that will work if universal compliance occurs.

“Sadly, voluntary compliance seems to have hit a plateau at this point,” he said. “Consequently, an ordinance is a logical step for the good of all our citizens.”

Carleton President Steve Poskanzer and St. Olaf President David Anderson noted their institutions require faculty, staff, students and visitors to wear a face covering while in the presence of others, within indoor public spaces and outside public spaces when physical distancing of 6 feet or more isn’t maintained.

COVID-19 is a disease that is seen as being primarily spread by respiratory droplets. The novel virus has a disproportionate impact on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

As of Friday, Minnesota has had 48,761 confirmed cases, 760 newly reported cases and four deaths from Monday to Tuesday.

Statewide, Minnesota has seen 1,588 deaths. Rice County has had 919 reported cases and nine deaths from Thursday to Friday.

Fellow Councilor Erica Zweifel said she appreciated the broader impact the city-wide measure would have on the community.

“This is about public health and public safety protecting all of us until we have a vaccine,” she said.

Fellow Councilor Jessica Peterson White, owner of Content Bookstore, said the city-wide mask mandate was part of a necessary strategy to control the spread of COVID-19 to end the pandemic.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said the tipping point on how the pandemic will progress in Northfield is likely to come with the introduction of a significant number of students into the city as college begins next month. She said that looming start makes it even more important to normalize mask-wearing to prevent the spread, adding that doing so would ease the pandemic and improve the economy. She said in turn, drug overdoses, mental health problems, failure to pay rent payments and other adverse situations would be reduced.

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

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

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