Updated: July 21, 7:54 a.m. | Posted: July 20, 4 a.m.
St. Cloud, Roseville and Bemidji became the latest Minnesota cities Monday to adopt mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Mandates in St. Cloud and Bemidji go into effect immediately. The Roseville requirement goes into effect July 27.
After a lengthy debate, the St. Cloud City Council voted 5-2 to approve the emergency ordinance.
It requires face coverings in all indoor public places, with several exemptions, including children under age 5 and people unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition.
Council members Paul Brandmire and Mike Conway voted against the mandate, saying they are not convinced that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Several other Minnesota cities, including Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester, already have adopted mask requirements. Gov. Tim Walz said on Friday he is still debating whether to adopt a statewide mandate.
Central Minnesota has been a hot spot for the coronavirus, with more than 2,600 confirmed cases in Stearns County.
CentraCare Health, the region's largest health care provider, is advocating for the St. Cloud mandate. Dr. George Morris, CentraCare’s medical incident commander for COVID-19, said public health officials’ strategy to control the virus’ spread depends on the widespread use of masks, but statistics show only about 40 percent of people always wear one when they go out.
“We think masks are important in basically any enclosed space, and especially important when you can’t maintain 6-foot social distancing, either inside or outside,” Morris said.
City Council members received letters both in support of and opposed to the proposal.
“I am alarmed by the number of people who are not wearing masks while in stores, and feel unsafe patronizing most local businesses, with the exception of the few that require masks,” wrote Brittany Merritt Nash, who urged the council to adopt the mandate.
Jennifer Davis of Clearwater, Minn., who said she does most of her shopping in the St. Cloud area, urged the council not to make mask-wearing mandatory.
“Please take into consideration that mandates require enforcement … and the city should not be using police resources to enforce a mask wearing ordinance, especially during such a strained time between residents and police,” Davis wrote.
Hontos said about 60 percent of the people who have contacted him support the mask mandate. He said he’s disappointed that wearing masks has become a political issue.
"We don't live in a vacuum. We live in a community. We're supposed to help each other. We're supposed to control the source. We're learning constantly about this virus. It keeps changing,” Hontos said.
Also Monday, the Metropolitan Airports Commission voted to institute a mask mandate at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which goes into effect July 27.
The new regulation applies in all public spaces at the airport, as well as any outdoor spaces that can’t accommodate social distancing. The face covering regulation applies in parking ramps, shuttle buses, trams and rental car operations.
The Twin Cities airport says information kiosks in the terminals will provide face coverings for people who don’t have them.
MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report.
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