ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, July 22, announced that Minnesota will adopt a statewide mask mandate beginning Saturday, July 25.
The requirement follows several other states and Minnesota cities that have required residents to don face coverings or masks when in public. And state health officials said the mandate could help quell the spread of COVID-19 after positivity rates for the illness crept up in recent weeks.
Before the mandate takes effect, here's what you need to know about the new rule.
What does the executive order say?
Walz's executive order requires Minnesotans and others to wear a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth when in an indoor space or area of public accommodation. That means if you enter a store, restaurant, school or other building besides a private residence, you need to wear a mask or face a penalty.
Kids 5 years old and younger won't have to wear a mask and cities can put in place stricter requirements than the state if they choose.
There are exemptions for medical and mental health conditions or disabilities. Workers who can't maintain social distancing outside are also required to wear face coverings or masks.
Exceptions allow the temporary removal for playing sports or doing physical activity at an indoor gym or other venues, delivering a speech, performing or testifying or playing a musical instrument. Eating and drinking are also exempted as appropriate reasons for removing a mask. And those who are deaf, disabled or hearing impaired or individuals communicating with people with hearing impairments, disabilities or deaf Minnesotans can also temporarily remove their face coverings.
How will the mandate be enforced?
The governor said law enforcement officers likely wouldn't ticket Minnesotans for not wearing masks in public spaces, but would remind them of the policy if they entered a store or building without one. The executive order sets out a $100 fine for those who violate the mandate. And business owners and managers that don't abide by the mandate could face fines of up to $1,000, misdemeanor charges and jail time.
Businesses could also face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense.
Walz said law enforcement likely won't issue tickets fines but instead will provide masks for those who don't have them.
“I want them handing out masks, not tickets,” Walz said. "Our goal is to get compliance."
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is and Minnesota Department of Health are set to send masks out to be circulated to communities in need as well as to law enforcement and local chambers of commerce so they can be distributed to those not wearing masks in required settings.
Why is the state requiring masks?
State health officials and the governor on Wednesday said they took the step to require masks to limit the spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations and deaths that result from the illness. After tracking an uptick in cases, including the largest daily in positive cases reported in seven weeks, Walz said the state needed to mandate masks.
"In the long run, this is the quickest way to ending the COVID pandemic," Walz said.
Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state for weeks had been tracking the rate of positivity in Minnesotans tested for the disease and the recent upward creep signaled the state needed to step in to require masks in indoor settings and settings where people can't social distance.
Business owners had also called for a statewide requirement to provide consistency and a baseline business owners could cite for customers not wearing masks.
Malcolm and others said the masks don't replace the need to maintain social distance and handwashing.
"The mask is not magic," she said. "A mask does not mean if you're sick it's ok to go out."
When will the mandate end?
As written, the mandate would run out when the governor ends the peacetime emergency for COVID-19 but Walz said the requirement could end sooner if the state saw 90 to 95% of people comply and rates of infection dwindle.
He didn't offer clear guidelines for when the state would feel satisfied enough to lift the mandate but said COVID-19 continues to pose a threat and the state needs to impose the requirement to slow its spread.