Minnesota health officials back statewide mask mandate

People wear masks on an escalator.
People wear masks as they use an escalator in the Mall of America on June 10, 2020, in Bloomington. It was the first time the mall had been open since March due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

Health experts are urging Gov. Tim Walz to require people to wear masks in public statewide amid concerns that the spike in coronavirus cases elsewhere could happen in Minnesota.

Governors in California, Kansas and Pennsylvania and several other states that are seeing rising COVID-19 numbers have mandated mask use statewide as a simple and effective step to slow the spread of the virus. Medical groups in Minnesota and the state Health Department are backing a mandate.

"It is our advice from the Health Department's perspective that this is so important and so effective and the evidence has gotten more and more clear on this point," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Wednesday. "We do recommend that it become a requirement at the statewide level."

While Minnesota has seen a slight uptick in confirmed cases, driven in part by expanded testing, hospitalization rates continue to fall and there's still no sign of a spike like other states are seeing. Walz said he's watching the situation in Minnesota and elsewhere as he reevaluates what to do daily.

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"Does our thinking change as we start to see these numbers in other states? Yes, absolutely, but we're still looking at our own," he said at a separate news conference.

On Monday, Walz said a statewide mandate requiring all people to wear masks while in public is “on the table.”

Several cities have enacted their own mask requirements, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. In Edina, face masks will be required inside public spaces beginning Monday. This includes businesses and city-owned buildings like City Hall. Exceptions include inside the city’s recreation facilities when social distancing can be maintained.

In Rochester, the City Council this week approved a masking mandate for city-operated facilities. A citywide mandate is up for discussion at the council's next meeting on Monday, but it's not clear there's support for the measure. Several council members have expressed concerns over how the mandate would be enforced.

Masks are also required by staff and patients while on Mayo Clinic property; Mayo has a large footprint in downtown Rochester.

In Duluth, the City Council is expected to vote July 13 on an emergency ordinance to require masks in indoor public spaces including businesses, government buildings and churches.