Gov Walz toys with mask mandate, says they're most effective for keeping businesses, schools open

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As states continue to see surges in coronavirus cases and deathss, mostly throughout the Sun Belt, Minnesota is grappling with how to move forward into the fall during the pandemic.

Wednesday morning, Governor Tim Walz joined Dave Lee on the WCCO Morning News and talked about one thing that many Minnesotans seem to think is inevitable, a mask mandate.

"Well, we're looking at it and I get it," said Walz." I understand this whole thing. It's a very American trait to be very independent about things. But I just wish this face mask thing hadn't been so politicized. I mean those signs have no shoes, no shirt, no service. I don't see people complaining about that much. And the fact of the matter is face masks slow the spread of this (virus). You know, we're learning more. What we didn't know in March, we know a lot more of now. I've been trying to encourage people to voluntarily do it. We're still having a bit of trouble with that. So I've said candidly, we're certainly exploring (mask mandates). I'm getting a lot of calls from a lot of different sectors, certainly the healthcare sector, but the business sector saying just make it easier for us.  Just make the state mandate.  And then we don't have to be the mask police at the door."

Many communities have already begun mandating masks, such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester.  Duluth and Minnetonka became the latest earlier this week.  Just yesterday, Minnesota-based Best Buy announced they were requiring masks in all their stores.  Now all Walmart stores are requiring masks.    Early on during the pandemic, there were varying opinions from health experts on the effectiveness of wearing a mask, while many federal government officials either spoke to it being uneffective, or refused to wear one in public. 

Now, it's become almost unanimous that they do help stop the spread in public places, especially indoors.  This past weekend, the Surgeon General spoke to Face The Nation and said they needed to correct earlier guidance from the Trump Administration, and they are now encouraging the wearing of masks.  

Minnesota's Governor was very clear Tuesday morning, saying that wearing a mask in public is crucial to completely reopening the state."I would just put out to Minnesotans again, this is the cheapest, easiest thing," Walz told Dave Lee. "If you want to keep businesses open, school open, and get back to normal, wearing a mask is more effective than any lockdown that I can do, or any of these other changes. It really makes a difference."

Does that mean a mandate is absolutely coming?  "We're still exploring it. I'm still trying to get some buy in. I think it's an encouraging sign. The president wore one and yesterday is telling people that they work. I just think a simple thing like that maybe will turn the tide."

Dave Lee also asked the Governor, a former teacher himself, when they would make a decision on what to do with schools this fall. "Yeah, I think with certainly within the next two weeks," Walz said. "We have spent a, obviously a lot of time on this since the beginning of the pandemic in March. We've learned a lot. I think most of us know I got a 13-year old at home, I was a teacher for several decades and it was really hard. So I know that for families, certainly distant learning is not for everyone. And I know that you've got to get those kids into the classroom. The challenge here is to do it safely."

While hotspots have certainly emerged in Florida, Texas, California and other states, Minnesota's numbers have continued to flatten.  Minnesota's ICU patients are the lowest since late April, and coronavirus deaths mostly in the single digits over the last three weeks.  Governor Walz did say there is always the chance of a resurgance in Minnesota however, and it will force the state to stay vigilant.  

"People want to want to hear as soon as possible," Walz said. "I just have to be candid David. This thing reemerged and the hotspots started to grow again over the last three weeks. You know, you have to continue to evolve on how your thinking goes, but I still think we're fairly stable here.  I think there's things that we can do a little bit better to slow transmission. We set a deadline with districts that we've been working with of the 27th of July. And I've been telling my team the sooner the better."