by Scott McClallen
On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz signed Executive Order 20-81, ordering Minnesotans to wear a mask in indoor public settings and crowded outdoor spaces starting Friday at 11:59 p.m.
“COVID-19 has impacted every corner of our state and every aspect of our lives,” Walz said in a statement.
“But as Minnesotans always do during tough times, we come together and we take care of one another. And right now there’s no better way to demonstrate our Minnesotan values than by wearing a mask. By combating the spread of COVID-19, masking will help protect our neighbors, keep our businesses open, and get us on track to return to the activities we love.”
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that wearing a mask and social distancing are some of the best ways to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Until there is a widely available vaccine, wearing a mask is one of the best tools we have for limiting the spread of COVID-19 and its harmful impacts,” Malcolm said.
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said that wearing a mask would hasten the economy’s full reopening.
“By wearing a mask, Minnesotans are helping keep businesses and communities open. Masks are more than just a courtesy – they are essential to protecting employees and customers,” Grove said.
Grove said that if a customer claims they aren’t wearing a mask due to health reasons, the owner can “leave it there.”
But the order says any business owner, manager, or supervisor who violates the rule could face a misdemeanor, a fine not to exceed $1,000, or up to 90 days in jail.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, as well as city and county attorneys, can seek civil relief from businesses with penalties up to $25,000 per violation.
There are several exemptions, including children five years and younger, and those with medical or mental health conditions or a disability that don’t allow them to wear a mask.
Any person who willfully violates the order could be charged with a petty misdemeanor and a fine up to $100.
More than a dozen Minnesotan cities have already mandated masks indoors.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL- Brooklyn Park, said the decision is “wise and justified.”
“The science is clear: wearing a mask is one of the best things we can do to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Hortman said. “If Minnesotans want to keep each other safe, to have students in school, and to keep businesses open, we need to wear masks when we are in public places.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the rule feels like a “heavy-handed, broad approach that won’t work well for every situation.”
“40 counties have no COVID deaths, and another 35 counties have less than 10 deaths. Meaning 86 percent of the state is either in a very safe environment or already taking appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID,” Gazelka said.
“The public is wearing masks and many businesses are requiring them. Deaths and ICU [intensive care units] use have stabilized to very low numbers without a statewide mask mandate.”
He encouraged Walz to allow kids to return to school and for businesses to expand operations and act according to their specific situation.
“Each business, school district, and church should be able to decide what works best for their specific needs,” Gazelka said. “‘One [size-fits-all] Minnesota’ is a terrible way to support more than 5 million individuals in our state.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Tim Walz” by CTN Coon Rapids.