Face masks have become the defining image of the coronavirus pandemic, and increasingly the focus of the political divide over the crisis.
But nearly three-quarters of Minnesota voters polled said they had worn face masks or coverings when leaving home in the week preceding a Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll.
Regardless of whether respondents were sorted by ideological preference, geographic area or age group, majorities said they’d donned a mask.
But the poll also showed clear differences.
The poll, conducted May 18-20, found that 92% of Democrats and 75% of independents had worn a mask the previous week, compared with 53% of Republicans.
In Minneapolis, DFL Mayor Jacob Frey has since announced he will require that people use face coverings in stores and other indoor gathering places. Violators will risk a $1,000 fine.
Across the country, mask policies have provoked scattered confrontations, some violent.
For some, face masks have become a political emblem. Republican lawmakers in Minnesota and in Washington have been less likely to wear them than their Democratic counterparts. President Donald Trump has shown a strong reluctance to don a mask.
That partisanship was clear in the Minnesota Poll of 800 people, conducted as state infections and deaths continued to rise. Statewide, 47% of Republicans said they had not worn a mask in the preceding week, compared to 8% who identified as Democrats.
The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, has an overall margin of error of 3.5%.
Women were more likely to wear masks, with 80% saying they’d done so, compared with 68% of men. And residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties wore them more than those in the suburbs or greater Minnesota.
For many, like Andrea Messina of Forest Lake, mask use has been sporadic. She said she wore one when she went to buy a camper the previous week because the business requested it. Messina also uses a mask to shop at Costco, which requires members to wear them. She said she doesn’t wear one at other stores or on other errands. Her community is less populated than others around the metro, so she said it feels safer.
“When it first hit, everyone is a little paranoid and panicked,” Messina said. She wore masks more often then. “Now that it’s become a part of daily life, I can kind of relax and find how I actually am going to deal with it myself.”
Authorities have sought to preserve high-grade face masks for health care workers in direct contact with infected patients. But in April, the Trump administration started encouraging people to make and wear cloth masks. With the rapid spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been urging the general public to wear masks or other coverings. They offer at least partial protection when indoors with people outside one’s immediate social circle or when social distancing is not possible.
Because respiratory droplets are the primary way the virus spreads, health authorities say widespread use of masks helps limit new cases. And some public health officials have credited masks with helping control the spread of COVID-19 in countries where their use is prevalent.
Dennis Boyer, who lives in veterans and community housing near Fort Snelling, has a store of masks and wears one whenever he goes out. He has underlying health conditions and is wary of the virus. Boyer’s been thinking about doubling up on cloth masks.
“Being safe in this time is smart,” he said.
But Mark Peterson, who spends most of his time in a rural community, said he hasn’t worn a mask and doesn’t see the point.
“If somebody sneezes on you and it gets in your eyes, I don’t care if you have a mask on or not, it’s not going to help,” he said.
The debate has intensified as Gov. Tim Walz has allowed more businesses to reopen. On June 1, restaurants and bars can open outdoor patios, and salons and barbershops can restart. The state is requiring masks of hair stylists and their customers, as well as for food workers.
Staff writer Christopher Snowbeck contributed to this report.