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MN Gov. Tim Walz announces mask mandate with exceptions for health conditions

Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan and Gov. Tim Walz during budget negotiations in May 2019 in Minneapolis. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/TNS)

Starting Saturday Minnesotans must wear a mask in indoor public places under an executive order by Gov. Tim Walz to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The Democratic governor announced the statewide mandate at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in St. Paul. Minnesota is the 30th state in the nation to require masks in some way.

“Minnesota, we can do this,” Walz said. “This is a small sacrifice for a potential big gain.”

Anyone over the age of five-years old must wear a mask in indoor public places. Refusing to do is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $100.

“They’d rather you put on a mask than write you a ticket,” Walz said.

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People with disabilities, physical or mental health issues that make wearing a mask problematic are exempt from the order, but encouraged to wear a face shield. State officials are expected to distribute masks in communities wear residents may not have the resources to purchase a mask.

“My mask protects you, your mask protects me. We do this, above all because it helps to save lives,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who lost her brother to COVID-19. She added that it shouldn’t be a political issue.

“I don’t want your family to go through what my family had to go through,” Flanagan said.

Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, said recent studies of mask wearing found it could have a dramatic impact on the spread of the virus.

“Masks help control the spread of the virus through droplets and aerosols that literally come out of our mouths,” Malcolm said.

Steve Grove, commission of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the mask mandate was needed to keep the economy open. He said businesses will not be required to enforce the rule, but the statewide order should help with customer compliance.

Houston White, who owns a barber shop in North Minneapolis, said wearing a mask was difficult for him to get used to at first, but he understood it was essential to keep his business open.

“As hard as it was to get used to wearing this thing, if it is going to keep my mom and my community healthy, I’m going to do it,” White said.

The blanket order across the entire state was criticized by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. He noted that many rural communities have seen few COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“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.”

Walz’s order was praised by fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members.

“Wearing a mask is an easy way to protect our neighbors and friends, not a partisan purity test,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “We still need to do all we can to slow the spread of this virus and keep Minnesota from becoming the latest hotspot.”

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© 2020 the Pioneer Press