This story was updated at 4:13 p.m. July 22
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 Wednesday afternoon. Governors in Ohio and Indiana also announced mask requirements Wednesday bringing the national total to 31 states requiring masks in some way.
Many cities and businesses have also adopted rules requiring masks.
“Minnesota, we can do this,” Walz said, calling it one of the easiest ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. “This is a small sacrifice for a potential big gain.”
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 made the order under his emergency powers that are in place since he declared a peacetime state of emergency in March. The governor said he expects the mask requirement to be in place for months and it would be lifted either when the infection rate drops dramatically or the peacetime emergency ends.
WHAT MANDATE STATES
Anyone over the age of 5 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.
Walz noted that a petty misdemeanor was technically not a crime and he hoped Minnesotans would comply with the order voluntarily.
“They’d rather you put on a mask than write you a ticket,” Walz said, adding that he wanted police to have a supply of masks to hand out to encourage compliance. “I want them handing out masks not tickets.”
Masks will be required in places like schools, businesses, offices and restaurants. They’re also needed in outdoor situations when social distancing of at least six feet is not possible.
People outdoors walking their dog or mowing their yard are not required to wear them.
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.
POLITICS AN ISSUE?
“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 care about your political affiliation,” Flanagan said. “I don’t want your family to go through what my family had to go through.”
While the state’s highest ranking Republican was quick to criticize the order, fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members offered praise.
“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.”
OFFICIALS: MASKS CAN WORK IF PEOPLE WEAR THEM
State officials are expected to distribute masks in communities where residents may not have the resources to purchase a mask. Masks will also be distributed to county chambers of commerce for businesses to provide to customers who may not have one.
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.
Dr. Dimitri Drekonja acknowledged that different types of masks have different effectiveness and that the message early in the pandemic from health officials about mask wearing was confusing. Nevertheless, Drekonja said there was strong evidence that mask wearing helps.
“There are lots of things that are good, but not perfect,” Drekonja said, referring to things like airbags, seatbelts and condoms. “If everybody uses them, they have huge effects.”
BUSINESSES WANT CONSISTENCY
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.
“They just want consistency,” Grove said.
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.