Rochester, Minnetonka join list of Minnesota cities issuing mask mandates

NIOSH-approved N95 masks
NIOSH-approved N95 masks are recommended to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 omicron variant.
Jennifer Swanson | NPR

Updated: Jan. 16, 8:30 p.m.

More Minnesota cities are implementing mask mandates amid a surge of new COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant.

The latest is Rochester, with Mayor Kim Norton announcing that emergency declaration on Saturday morning. The order requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces — with some exemptions — is set to take effect at 6 a.m. Sunday.

"Local case counts are higher than they have ever been during the course of the pandemic and (are) causing significant stresses for the local healthcare system, both from volume of patients as well as the level of sickness experienced by health care providers themselves," the city said in a news release.

“Can we stop it in its tracks? I think it’s safe to say we cannot. But can we tamp down the peak? Can we and should we be doing everything we can to protect our community? Yes, and that’s what this is an attempt to do,” Norton told MPR News on Sunday. “And is it a little late? Yeah, but people weren't ready until now.”

“We are a health care community that needs the staff to be able to work and be on the ready, to have our businesses open to care for the community,” she said.

Elsewhere in Minnesota, the Minnetonka City Council approved a mask mandate in that city on Friday; it takes effect late Monday night.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Hopkins and Golden Valley announced their own mask mandates earlier this month.

The Rochester policy is set to last until Feb. 7. By city statute, it required City Council approval to last longer than three days; the Rochester City Council consented to the mayor's emergency declaration at a special meeting on Sunday evening, according to a city news release. The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported the council backed the measure on a 6-1 vote.

Exemptions to the Rochester mask mandate include children age 2 and younger; people eating or drinking in bars and restaurants; and participants in youth sports. The city released a document outlining all exemptions.

That document states that a violation of the mask requirement isn't a criminal offense.

"However, any individual that fails to comply may be asked to leave by the business/organization. If an individual refuses to leave, law enforcement may be called to enforce trespassing laws," the city said. "Any business found in violation of the mask requirement may be subject to administrative action for any licenses they possess with the city."

The Minnetonka mask mandate applies to people age 5 and older, and may remain in place up to two months. A list of exemptions can be found here.