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Ramsey County leaders said Tuesday that they are prepared to enact a public mask requirement in all county facilities, possibly including some busy outdoor locations.

Commissioners expressed support for the policy they discussed Tuesday and said they plan to vote on it next week, asserting they cannot rely on a possible statewide mask order that Gov. Tim Walz is said to be considering.

"I don't think we can wait for the state at this point," said Commissioner Nicole Joy Frethem. "Enough is enough. The data is there. We need to protect our citizens."

Frethem said the best way to accelerate the reopening of businesses and the economy is to "mask up."

Ramsey County employees already are required to wear masks. If the County Board approves the proposed mask requirement, all visitors to county facilities will be required to don masks.

County Manager Ryan O'Connor said that while policy details still were being hashed out, some outdoor spaces where people come within 6 feet of one another could fall under the mask requirement. He didn't clarify which ones.

"If you are within 6 feet of other individuals regardless if you are inside or outside, you should be wearing a mask," he said. "Our policy should reflect that."

A handful of Minnesota cities including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnetonka and Duluth have passed public mask requirements. The Ramsey Board's goal is to write a mask policy that cities in the county can easily implement in their own facilities should they choose.

County facilities where masks could be required indoors include public offices in downtown St. Paul and suburban communities, Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, courthouses, seven suburban libraries and 11 ice arenas.

Outdoor facilities include nine parks, six regional trail corridors, five golf courses and the Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township. Several facilities already have limited service due to COVID-19.

"We are now able to provide masks to those who may not have them coming into our facilities. There is no reason not to follow the science," said County Board Chairwoman Toni Carter. "The science tells us this is one of the best defenses to COVID-19."

"I am wearing a mask because I care about you. It's really about other people," said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt. "It's not a political statement and I think it's really sad it's come to that."

In other COVID-19 developments, Ramsey County has received applications from 861 businesses for the first round of grants from the county's Small Business Relief Fund, aimed at helping those adversely affected by the pandemic. The county has earmarked $15 million of its $96 million in federal COVID aid for small-business relief.

The first round of $10,000 grants, totaling $5 million, will go to microenterprises, defined as businesses with five or fewer employees. So far, 146 businesses have received a total of $1.4 million.

The remaining $10 million will be awarded later this summer to businesses with up to 20 employees.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037