Cloth face masks

As Gov. Tim Walz and his administration consider a statewide mask mandate during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Mankato has decided not to wait.

At a Monday night meeting, the City Council voted in favor of a mandate to require cloth face masks for anyone entering most public indoor spaces in Mankato, including grocery stores, restaurants and bars, gas stations, retail shops and more. Some indoor facilities are exempt from the ordinance, including gyms/fitness centers, movie theaters and other indoor entertainment venues. Those who are eating and drinking in restaurants and bars can also do so maskless, but only while seated and socially distanced.

The vote on a divided council was 5-2, with a supermajority needed for the mandate. It goes into effect on Friday, July 10 and is set to last 60 days.

The new rules comes as state public health officials track clusters of cases associated with bar-hopping, and as cases spike among younger people in Minnesota and elsewhere.

In Mankato, there was split public opinion on the mandate, with one councilor noting that it was 50/50 among the community. That councilor provided the deciding fifth vote after receiving reassurances from city staff that the policy wouldn’t be overly harsh.

The mandate calls for a warning to businesses and individuals on a first offense and then a $200 fine for violations after that.

Rochester and statewide

Rochester also approved a new mandate Monday that will require people to wear face masks indoors while out in public, in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The Rochester mandate goes into effect on Wednesday, July 8. It passed 6-1. If customers won’t comply, businesses can call on law enforcement for trespassing. Businesses that violate the order would be subject to administrative action for licenses they hold with the city.

In Rochester, the loudest calls for a masking mandate came from the city’s massive medical community, centered on Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center. At Mayo, masks for providers and patients have been required for weeks.

They urged city leaders to mandate mask-wearing, arguing it is critical to preserving the city’s reputation as a medical destination and its economy, which relies heavily on people coming to Rochester from out of town for care.

“I’m disappointed we’ve had to come to this,” said Annalissa Johnson, who represents the city’s 6th Ward and who voted for the mandate. “I’d like to think people can be responsible on their own.”

Officials statewide are under increasing pressure to take a stand on the issue after the Minnesota Medical Association, which represents thousands of practitioners across the state, last week asked for mandatory masking requirements.

State health experts are urging Gov. Tim Walz to require people to wear masks in public statewide amid concerns that the spike in coronavirus cases elsewhere could happen in Minnesota.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul already require people to wear masks inside businesses and other indoor facilities. In Duluth, local officials initially had hoped to normalize the practice rather than enforce it, but the Duluth City Council is now set to vote July 13 on an emergency ordinance that would require them.

Catharine Richert and Hannah Yang, of Minnesota Public Radio News, contributed to this report.

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