Gov. Walz Details Statewide Mask Mandate, as Minnesota Joins More Than Half of U.S.

As expected, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is implementing a statewide mandatory mask policy, consistency he said Wednesday businesses want, and Minnesotans are capable of handling.

“If you’re out walking your dog outside, you don’t need to wear a mask if you’re not around people” Walz said. “If you’re talking to your neighbor across the fence while you’re both mowing the yard, you can do that, too. You’re in your home, you don’t have to do that. You’re driving in the car by yourself, but you stop to go in and pay for gas and sida, just slip it on. That right there, if we do that at that compliance level, we’re going to bottom this thing out and we’re going to get to the other end of this.”

The policy requires face coverings when inside public buildings and on public transportation. Children ages 5 and under and people with medical conditions or disabilities are exempt. It's also O.K. to remove masks temporarily when dining at restaurants or exercising at fitness centers.

“If you’re engaging with your server please wear it to protect that server,” Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said. “And use it when you’re moving around the restaurant but when you’re just with your party eating or drinking, of course, you don’t need to wear a mask. Same goes for exercising in a gym, that strenuous activity. When you’re on that treadmill running, you don’t have to wear a mask, but in those in-between times, have it on you.”

Walz said he would rather police officers "hand out masks than a violation," but officially, violating the ordinance "willfully" results in a misdemeanor and up to 90 days in a jail or a fine of up to $1,000. Businesses forcing employees to violate the executive order could face a gross misdemeanor and a fine of up to $3,000 or one year imprisonment. Walz added, "We're certainly not trying to make anyone a criminal," and said education was a focus.

More than half of states have implemented mandatory mask policies, including Wednesday Ohio and Indiana -- both controlled by Republican governors and legislatures. Minnesota officials hope that with 90 to 95 percent compliance, with data showing 40 percent of people with the virus do not display symptoms, the mandate will significantly limit new cases, and therefore serious cases and deaths.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm cited an analysis by Forbes which found cases in states without mask mandates rose 79 percent over a 14-day average, while those with mandates increased by an average of 16 percent.

The mandate earned praise from the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Hospital Association, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka criticized it as “one size fits all.”

“Once again, I find myself asking why one-size-fits-all is the only option for a mask mandate,” Gazelka 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.”

After about a dozen Minnesota cities enacted their own mandates, with more, like Eden Prairie scheduled to, and businesses put up signs to create their own regulations, many are praising a feeling of consistency.

It wasn’t until the last month when Hannah Peura, owner of Compass Rose, a home and gift shop in Bemidji, considered a mask regulation in her store. Beltrami County has seen its cases nearly double in the past week.

When she opened her business back up weeks ago, she tried to meet customers at how they felt comfortable shopping, in store, curbside, or delivery. But she felt compelled to take the step.

“We cannot afford to shut down for two weeks,” she said. “We can’t afford for our employees and their families to get sick. I love our town, and therefore, the sacrifice to wear a mask is small compared to the risk of those around me.”

Grove said the agency is working on distributing disposable masks to businesses through chambers so they don’t have to turn a customer away.

Health officials say social distancing, avoiding crowds, hand hygiene and masks are the recipe to get a handle on the virus until there is a vaccine or therapeutic. While polls have shown strong support for wearing masks, Walz was asked about people who refuse to wear them.

“One of the things we see here is,” Walz said, “we got ourselves into this weird place where masks were a proxy for a political ideology, rather than a science-based approach. I still can’t figure this out. Why weren’t there massive protests at my house about hands-free (laws)? The only thing I can think is that it wasn’t chosen to be that fight.”

Read the full executive order here:

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