A two-month face-mask mandate in Rochester starts Wednesday.
The Rochester City Council voted 6-1 to support the mandate signed Monday by Mayor Kim Norton, with Council President Randy Staver voting against the order.
“We’ve really worked to hit the sweet spot here, where we are not too punitive but we’re telling the community this needs to happen,” Norton said.
The mandate lasts until Sept. 4, unless other action rescinds the requirement before then.
Staver said the end date appears to be arbitrary and questioned the basis for the action, citing conflicting data regarding the spread of the virus.
“Depending on which number you look at, you may come back with a different interpretation,” he said.
Norton said the move is an attempt to look beyond current cases of COVID-19 in the community.
“It isn’t simply about the numbers, although they have been on the rise in Olmsted County,” she said. “This is also about our ability to keep our economy moving and our economy open.”
While violations could lead businesses to calling for police support to remove customers who are unwilling to wear masks, the order provides for some exemptions.
“What I see here is more flexibility for our community than I expected,” said council member Patrick Keane.
The mandate requires face coverings to be worn in:
- Restaurants and bars when not seated at a table
- Retail businesses at all times
- Gyms and sports facilities where 6-foot distances cannot be maintained
- Entertainment venues when someone is within 6 feet of another person
- Public transportation at all times
The exemptions include:
- Facilities operated by Olmsted County, the state or federal government
- Salons and personal care services already under state requirements
- Medical facilities with existing face-covering requirements
- Children 2 years of age or younger
- Individuals actively eating or drinking
- Temporary removal of face coverings for identification purposes
- Individuals unable to wear a face covering due to medical, disability or developmental reasons
- Individuals speaking to an audience, as long as the speaker remains 6 feet away from others
- Individuals speaking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and requires the mouth to be visible to communicate
- Participants in youth sports, who must meet requirements under the state’s executive orders
In addition to potentially removing customers who violate the order, enforcement could include actions against city licenses for businesses that fail to comply.
However, Norton said the intent isn’t strict enforcement.
“The goal is not to trespass people. The goal is not to be punitive to people. The goal is to keep our economy moving,” she said, adding that the measure will help make residents and visitors feel more comfortable about going to local businesses.
Staver said he believes businesses are already taking steps to fight the spread of the virus through additional cleaning measures and other steps.
“Our business community has responded very well,” he said.
City Attorney Jason Loos said he crafted the mask mandate with the help of public health officials, who said the airborne virus poses a greater threat than surface contamination, which points to a need for masks to prevent people from unknowingly exposing others.
Mayo Clinic Dr. Jack O'Horo, an infectious disease specialist, said the clinic’s mask mandate has proven the benefits of such requirements.
“The policy has helped prevent the spread on our campus and helped Mayo Clinic continue to serve patients safely during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, adding that he was speaking on behalf of Mayo Clinic.
“If the city can achieve stronger compliance to masking by making it mandatory, Mayo Clinic supports the mayor and city council,” he said.