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Mayor: Rochester citywide mask requirement possible this weekend

Council members announce willingness to approve a short-term order but cite lack of needed agreement

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ROCHESTER – Discussion of a citywide mask mandate that started to make headway Thursday continued into late Friday afternoon as a federal three-day weekend approached.

Mayor Kim Norton said logistics surrounding a potential order remained unsettled and an weekend decision is possible.

Late Thursday, Rochester City Council President Brooke Carlson announced a majority of council members are willing to back a three-week mask requirement.

“Due to tremendous community-wide staffing shortages and pressure on our care providers, I was prepared to vote to affirm a limited, time-bound mayoral emergency declaration including a masking requirement expiring no later than Feb. 7,” she said. “Unfortunately, despite growing support from the council, we were not able to come to an agreement with the mayor today to achieve this.”

The statement followed a social media post by council member Nick Campion, who said his support was contigent on a potential emergency order being limited to the short-term mask requirement.

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Reached Thursday night, he said the next move would need to be made by the mayor, based on the process outlined in city regulations.

"I want my position to be clear," he said. "At this point, it would be necessary for the mayor to initiate the process so I will await her decision as to whether or not we move forward."

Friday morning, Norton said she's planning to shore up council support in hopes of confirming an agreement on an emergency order before the weekend.

“I reached out to several other city council members yesterday afternoon and evening and do believe we are close to having enough support with just a few details to be ironed out,” she said. “It is my hope that some very minor compromises can be made and that language can be finalized today.”

In addition to working through the details of a potential emergency order, Norton held her annual State of the City address Friday. She avoided discussion of the potential mandate, but other community leaders included in the online presentation pointed to COVID-related concerns.

The mayor has had an emergency order ready since signing a short-lived emergency order in August, but has not had enough council support to enact it for more than three days.

The August order was rescinded after two days, with only Carlson and council member Molly Dennis supporting its continuation.

At the time, Carlson voiced a desire to modify the citywide order to cover the most vulnerable sections of the population, but other council members, including Campion, said the order was too broad and would be difficult to enforce.

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As late as Tuesday , Campion voiced concerns about the effectiveness of an order.

“The question really comes down to what is going to make any sort of guidance from the city or requirement from the city effective,” he said. “The outcomes are what we are trying to measure here.”

Rochester and Olmsted County have seen a growing number of COVID cases in recent weeks,

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,876 newly confirmed COVID cases in the seven-day period ending Wednesday, with a nearly 30% positivity rate from recent tests.

Norton has expressed a willingness to work with council members since August to hone the proposed order amid increases in COVID cases in an effort that could obtain the support of at least four council members and address her concerns about transmission of the virus.

“The question is: What should the requirement look like and how would it be enforced?” she said earlier this week.

In the meantime. Carlson pointed to the City Council’s stance on encouraging mask usage for anyone in indoor public spaces.

“The city's advice remains to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible, test and respond accordingly to a positive test, and follow other mitigation strategies like masking and social distancing,” she said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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