At least one Rochester City Council member is ready for a new mask mandate.
“I’ve been flooded with emails and people calling,” council member Molly Dennis told the council Monday afternoon. “The surge of the highly contagious variant is sharply rising.”
She pointed to a COVID-19 risk assessment that shows Olmsted County at high risk and said she’d like to see the council discuss the option of voting on a mask requirement to protect children, people who cannot be vaccinated and others.
“I feel like time is very sensitive on this issue,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health have a classification system for when face coverings are recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Olmsted County has reached the threshold for recommending masks at indoor public settings.
Olmsted County’s current classification is as a county with substantial community transmission for COVID-19. This means our county has had either 50 new cases per 100,000 people during the last seven days or an 8 percent positive test rate in the past seven days.
A statement from the county didn’t say which factor increased the classification change, but Mayor Kim Norton said Monday that city and county officials continue to monitor the situation.
“I was in contact all day Sunday with (Director) Graham Briggs at (Olmsted County) Public Health, looking at the data, and he has asked that we wait a little bit longer to learn a little bit more about (the Minnesota Department of Health) and their decision,” she said.
City Administrator Alison Zelms said waiting also will help determine whether the local change is part of a trend or a one-time occurrence.
She said reacting too quickly could send inconsistent message if the classification is quickly reversed.
“I think it’s prudent to continue to monitor,” she said.
Council President Brooke Carlson agreed, but added that the latest information raises concerns.
“I’m also concerned as a mother of two kids who aren’t eligible (for the vaccine), one of them with asthma,” she said. “This is worrisome, but we are keeping track of the data and involved in the right conversations, so we can make a decision as soon as we need to.”
At this time there is no mask requirement for Rochester. However, masks are required in some cases, regardless of a person’s vaccination status. They include Rochester Public Library’s youth services area and some parks and recreation youth programs.
Anyone using Rochester Public Transit must be masked while riding a bus or while at the bus stop or shelter.
Private businesses and organizations have the right to require patrons to wear masks in their store or facility.
Masks are required at all medical buildings and offices.
Norton said the city’s emergency operations center team is meeting Thursday to discuss the appropriate response to the change in risk status.
“For the next couple days, we just ask for people’s patience and ask people to make their own choices,” she said, adding that she is wearing a mask indoors when she can’t maintain proper distances from others or when children are present.
Norton said Thursday's discussion will also likely include considerations of changes to masking policies for city staff and within city buildings.
The city already requires mask usage, regardless of vaccination status, in the Rochester Public Library’s Youth Services Area and in some Parks and Recreation youth programs, to protect youth under age 12
Rochester also requires masks on city buses and at bus stops and transit facilities, The requirement is mandated by the federal Transportation Security Administration.
Zelms said if the Thursday meeting results in the recommendation for a citywide mask mandate, the mayor could declare one starting Friday, which would last three days, giving the council a chance to act on Monday.
Until then, she said the best action is for people to continue to be vaccinated and to practice safety measures.