Starting next week, people must wear face masks or similar coverings inside Minneapolis stores and other indoor gathering spots, or risk a $1,000 fine.
When Mayor Jacob Frey signed an emergency regulation on Thursday requiring the masks, he joined a slew of other city officials across the country who have ordered people to cover their faces in public in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The new requirement in Minneapolis came just one day after Gov. Tim Walz cleared the way for more businesses to reopen with limitations on June 1.
“We have a responsibility to the entire state to step up our efforts to prevent community spread,” Frey said. “Short of universal testing, cloth masks are an important mechanism for protecting our public health. Why? Because there’s a good chance, and a good reason people wouldn’t know they’re carrying COVID-19.”
Health officials say roughly 80% of coronavirus infections result in mild or no symptoms, meaning many people could carry the virus without knowing it.
City officials think Minneapolis is first in Minnesota to require face masks indoors. The city has reported an outsized number of COVID-19 cases: the city had 2,176 confirmed cases as of Wednesday evening — or roughly 12% of the statewide total.
Frey’s order, which goes into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, requires people over the age of 2 to wear a covering over their nose and mouth when they are inside “indoor spaces of public accommodation.” It includes in that definition retail stores, government buildings, schools, recreation centers, hotels and skyways, among other locations.
Mask mandates have varied widely across the country. Los Angeles requires masks anytime someone is in public, inside or out.
Earlier this month, New Orleans imposed similar requirements to those in Minneapolis. St. Paul has not announced whether it will enact any rules on masks.
The choice to wear a mask has become a new front in the nation’s political divide.
A poll conducted earlier this month by the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago found that 75% of Democrats felt it was essential to require people to wear face masks before lifting restrictions in their area, while only 37% of Republicans felt the same way.
Supporters believe that mask requirements are crucial to preventing the spread of a deadly virus, while opponents argue it’s an example of government overstepping its authority.
The reaction in Minnesota was no less mixed Thursday evening.
Phillip Markel, who lives in Minneapolis and worked as a bar and restaurant server in Golden Valley until the governor’s stay-at-home order, thought the requirement was “all but inevitable, especially in a densely populated area and with easing of restrictions.”
“Clearly, the effects of the virus were not as severe for certain age groups, and the shutdown may have been overkill, but I personally don’t believe that wearing a mask in public is too much to ask,” Markel said. “Things could be a whole lot worse.”
Jean Johnson, who lives in Plymouth and whose husband usually works in Minneapolis, said she generally wears a cloth mask while she’s shopping “because I believe [it] to be the respectful thing to do and because I hope that it will help allow more businesses to open faster.” But, she added: “What I take very strong exception with is the government stepping in to require this.”
She questioned how long the order would last and what would happen if a vaccine is never developed. “This seems like Frey saw an opportunity to one-up a Democrat governor who I generally support in a game of ‘I can be more liberal than you’ with no clear reason to do so,” she said.
Trent Witz, a Minneapolis resident who is the director of basketball operations for Minneapolis North High School, said he thought the requirement was “too late” and feared it was “going to drive business out of Minneapolis.”
But David Frank, director of the city’s Department of Community Planning & Economic Development, said he thought it could do the opposite. “Based on what we are hearing from businesses, if it makes customers feel safer, there will be more customers,” he said.
To comply, people can wear masks — surgical, N95, or homemade — or other cloth items that cover their noses and mouth. People who don’t wear the coverings in the required locations could face a misdemeanor, which carries up to a $1,000 fine.
The order also requires those businesses to make sure their employees wear face coverings when they have “face-to-face contact with the public.” Businesses that violate the rule could also face action on their licenses.
Frey said the city will focus first on education and outreach before taking the more severe response.
“We’re not penalizing forgetfulness. We’re not criminalizing lack of awareness,” he said. “We’re cracking down on serious selfishness and a flagrant disregard for the public health of our city. You’re going to have to earn a citation for this.”