A limited mask mandate for Rochester is in the works.
“I can hold off until tomorrow morning to sign it, but I’m going to sign it,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said Monday night.
The proposal discussed by the Rochester City Council on Monday would require face masks in public indoor spaces where children or medically vulnerable people could be present.
The council discussed the option, but no vote was taken.
A mayoral declaration would expire in three days, unless the council votes to extend it.
Monday night, some council members expressed concerns about the proposed action
“I don’t know how narrow you’re going to be, I don’t know what you are signing, and I don’t know if it’s legal,” council member Shaun Palmer said, citing the county’s high vaccination rate and questioning the need for a mask requirement.
Norton said it remains unclear whether the order would withstand a legal challenge, but she noted it does not make violating the mandate a criminal offense.
Council President Brooke Carlson said questions about enforcement are a concern and that definitions are needed to provide better guidance.
“I want to be supportive of masking where kids are present,” she said. “I want to be sure we articulate what those settings are, because kids can be almost anywhere.”
Council member Nick Campion raised the same concern.
“I see the vagueness of ‘any place where kids are going to be’ being pretty difficult to regulate,” he said.
Norton acknowledged there would be questions, but referenced a discussion last week that indicated the council wanted to consider some sort of narrow requirement.
“We are in this place where we knew we’d be," she said of increasing reports of breakthrough infections and hospitalizations. "We just didn’t know how long it would take to get here."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Olmsted County reported nearly 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 residents, as of Sunday. There were 25 new hospitalizations reported during a seven-day period ending Saturday.
“The numbers are expected, according to Mayo Clinic, to increase over the next four weeks,” Norton said.
The mayor said the proposed restrictions provide some flexibility by allowing businesses to consider establishing hours where children younger than 12 would not be present.
The Minnesota Department of Health reports 82 percent of Olmsted County residents 12 and older have received at least a single dose of vaccine and 78 percent are considered fully vaccinated.
A vaccine for anyone 11 or younger is not available.
Council member Patrick Keane voiced concern about moving the focus of the COVID-19 response from encouraging more people to be vaccinated to once again discussing mask requirements.
He said he’s not sure that’s the right move under current circumstances.
“Mayor Norton says wearing a mask is a very simple act, and I agree personally, it is a simple act, but it is not a simple act at a community level,” he said.
Council member Mark Bransford raised concerns about the potential for shifting messages as numbers change, and council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said waiting until infection numbers are updated Wednesday could point the council in another direction.
Council member Molly Dennis, the only council member to attend the meeting online, was the only one to fully support the proposal, but said she’d like to see it go further.
“Viruses don’t just go to children,” she said. “Viruses are going to affect everybody.”
“We need to err on the side of protection,” she added.
Following Monday’s meeting, Norton said she was willing to wait until Tuesday morning to sign the order, giving council members time to propose any changes.