As Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide mask mandate went into effect early Saturday morning, Hutchinson police are asking people to not call in and report other individuals who are not wearing masks.
According to the mandate, which Walz announced during a press conference Wednesday, Minnesotans must wear a mask in indoor public places. The goal, Walz said, is to slow the spread of coronavirus. As of Thursday, 31 states and the District of Columbia now require that most people cover their faces when out in public.
“Minnesota, we can do this,” Walz said during the press conference, calling it one of the easiest ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. “This is a small sacrifice for a potential big gain.”
There are exceptions to the mandate. Children younger than 5 are exempt from the mandate, as are people with disabilities, or physical or mental health issues that make wearing a mask problematic. In these cases, people are encouraged to wear a face shield.
Masks are required in places such as schools, businesses, offices and restaurants. They’re also needed in outdoor situations when social distancing of at least 6 feet is not possible. Masks are not required for people outdoors doing activities such as walking their dog or mowing their yard.
While refusing to wear a mask is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $100, Walz said it is technically not a crime, and he hoped Minnesotans would comply with the order voluntarily. Hutchinson Police Chief Tom Gifferson echoed with the sentiment, and added that he believes law enforcement’s role in policing the mandate will largely be in situations where someone refusing to wear a mask will not leave a business.
“The people refusing to wear it and then refusing to leave, or if they are just blatantly refusing,” Gifferson said. “If we’ve told them several times and we’ve been called to five or six different businesses and it’s the same person, then we would probably take a little more enforcement action with a citation or something like that. But our goal, as it always has been, is education. So we’ll get there and we’ll say, ‘The order is you need to wear a mask any time you are indoors. Now they want you to leave, and if you fail to leave then you’ll be trespassing.’”
While the statewide mask mandate is new, many local businesses had already issued mask mandates of their own. Since businesses started doing so, Gifferson said Hutchinson police have had very few calls of people refusing to wear masks.
“There’s always the anomaly out there where someone gets upset and pushes a shopping cart into an employee or something like that, but for the most part I think people understand you need to have your mask on if they are requesting you to wear a mask, or you shop elsewhere,” Gifferson said. “Now that’s not an option, so we may see an increased amount of calls, but again, we are urging folks not to call us to report another individual not wearing a mask.”
A request for comment sent to the McLeod County Sheriff's Office has not yet been returned.
MASKS FOR BUSINESSES
As part of the statewide mandate, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is distributing masks to local chambers of commerce in each county. The masks are a one-time shipment to be given to area businesses to provide to customers who may not have one.
According a press release from Mary Hodson, president of the Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, McLeod County’s three chambers of commerce in Hutchinson, Glencoe and Winsted will be given the masks received from DEED.
The Hutchinson Chamber will receive the shipment, and from there the masks will be divided between the Hutchinson, Winsted and Glencoe chambers for all businesses in the county.
“These masks are part of a large effort by the state to provide four million masks at no cost to the public. They are meant for businesses to hand to their customers who may not have a mask, or have forgotten a mask,” Hodson said. “This is meant as a goodwill gesture on the state’s part, and not a lasting solution to businesses’ need for masks in the coming months.
“We’ve been told this is a one-time shipment. Businesses and individuals should be purchasing masks for the future. Everyone should become prepared with masks, as the burden of providing masks to customers is a financial drain on all businesses,” she added.
A county business may request masks from its designated chamber, depending where the business is located. Each chamber is responsible for the following areas:
- Hutchinson Chamber: Cities Hutchinson, Stewart and Brownton. Townships of Acoma, Hutchinson, Lynn, Hassan Valley, Collins, Sumter, Round Grove and Penn
- Glencoe Chamber: Cities of Glencoe, Silver Lake, Biscay and Plato. Townships of Glencoe, Helen, Rich Valley and Hale
- Winsted Chamber: Cities of Winsted and Lester Prairie. Townships of Winsted and Bergen
A business is not required to be a chamber member to receive masks. It should be noted, each chamber may have a different registration and distribution process, and businesses should check with their designated chamber for more information.
The Hutchinson Chamber used an online form at explorehutchinson.com/mask-requests/ that was open Monday through Wednesday, July 29. Distribution will happen on one day only, which is yet to be determined.
The Hutchinson Chamber asks businesses to be attentive to its social media pages and website, along with news media outlets, for the most up-to-date information as it becomes available. Chamber members are also encouraged to watch for email updates. If a Hutchinson Chamber member is not receiving emails, they should check their junk and spam folders before calling the Chamber at 320-587-5252.