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What to know about Minnesota’s new statewide mask mandate

The executive order, which Gov. Tim Walz had teased earlier in the week, takes effect Saturday and will remain in place until the state’s peacetime emergency declaration ends.

Gov. Tim Walz
Under Gov. Tim Walz's executive order, Minnesotans will be required to wear masks in indoor businesses and indoor public settings, including on public transportation.
Evan Frost/MPR/Pool

Minnesotans will be required to wear masks in indoors, including in businesses and public spaces, by order of Gov. Tim Walz, announced Wednesday

The executive order, which Walz had teased earlier in the week, takes effect as the clock turns from Friday to Saturday, and remains in effect until his peacetime emergency has ended. While deaths due to coronavirus remain down and hospitalization rates remain steady, the number of confirmed positive cases has been on the rise lately in Minnesota, as it has been in other states as society has gradually opened back up.

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“This is the way, the cheapest, the most effective way for us to open up our businesses, for us to get our kids back in school, for us to keep our grandparents healthy and for us to get back that life that we all miss so much,” Walz said in a press conference announcing the mandate. With the order, Minnesota joins more than half of U.S. states that now have statewide mask mandates, according to CNBC.

Mask rules

Under the executive order, Minnesotans will be required to wear masks in indoor businesses and indoor public settings, including on public transportation. But there are some caveats:

  • People are not required to wear masks while eating or drinking. 
  • Kids ages 5 and under are exempt from the mandate, and the mandate says children under age 2 should not wear masks. Those 2 through 5 are encouraged to wear masks if they can do so without frequently touching or removing the mask.
  • People with physical or mental health conditions for whom wearing a mask is not reasonable are exempt.
  • Workers are not required to wear face masks if it creates a safety hazard on-the-job.
  • Specific rules are laid out for childcare and education settings. Walz is expected to announce more information about how schools will carry out the coming academic year next week.

Businesses are required to comply with the mask mandate by, among other things, posting signs regarding face mask requirements, informing employees and updating COVID-19 preparedness plans, and taking “reasonable efforts” to enforce the requirement. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said the idea is not for businesses to get confrontational with customers; he said if a customer says they are not wearing a mask for health reasons, that’s where the discussion should end. 

Individuals over age 14 who willfully violate the order may be charged with a petty misdemeanor and fined $100 (students would not be fined if they were on school grounds for school purposes). Business owners who willfully violate the order can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $1,000 or imprisoned for 90 days. Civil penalties can also be imposed.

A full list of rules can be found here. The full text of the executive order, with more specifics, can be found here.

Research finds masks effective

Early on in the pandemic, many public health officials discouraged widespread use of masks, partly due to a shortage of medical masks for health care workers. At that time, less was known about the virus and how masks might affect its spread.

Now, both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization urge the general public to wear cloth masks. Research suggests masks are an effective method of preventing transmission: According to a research roundup by the University of California-San Francisco, one study used a high-speed camera to measure how far droplets traveled when people talked. Masks caused the droplets to travel less far. One found that when sick people wore face masks, they emitted significantly less virus in droplets and aerosols than without the mask.

There are also real-life examples where masks are believed to have made a difference in transmission. For one, countries where mask-wearing when ill is the norm have had lower death rates.

U.S. states that have mandated masks have seen dropoffs in the daily growth rate of cases. Two hair stylists in Missouri were in contact with 140 clients while they had COVID-19, but all wore masks and nobody else became ill.

A June report by Goldman Sachs found a national mask mandate could buoy the country’s GDP by 5 percent, and Walz has characterized masks — mandated or not — as the best way to ensure Minnesota businesses can stay open.

“The simplest thing we can do to get back in school, the simplest thing we can do to open up and make sure our businesses remain open like they are, and the simplest thing that Republicans can do to make sure that I don’t have to take executive actions around the pandemic, is to wear a mask,” Walz said Tuesday.

In Minnesota, cities including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Duluth, Mankato and St. Cloud have passed their own local mask requirements.

Retailers, including Costco, Walmart, Lowe’s, Aldi and Target, among others, are or will require customers to wear face masks in their stores.

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Politics of masks

Despite wider adoption and increasing evidence of masks’ efficacy, to mask or not to mask has, for some, become a political question. Nationally, some of that politicization surrounding masks seems to have fallen away as case counts rise again. Some Republican governors have enacted mask requirements. In a Tuesday press briefing, President Donald Trump, who had not previously been supportive of masks, urged Americans to wear them.

Walz said Tuesday he had hoped to gain Republican support to pass a mask mandate at the Legislature, which ended a special session over the weekend.

In a statement Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) criticized the statewide nature of the coming mask mandate.

He pointed out that 40 out of Minnesota’s 87 counties have seen no COVID-19 deaths, while 35 counties have had less than 10 deaths.

“86% of the state is either in a very safe environment or already taking appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID. The public is wearing masks and many businesses are requiring them. Deaths and ICU use have stabilized to very low numbers without a statewide mask mandate,” he said.