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Rochester council backs short-term mask requirement

City's third mask mandate will run through Feb. 7

The Rochester City Council is joined Sunday night by City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage, lower right corner, during an online meeting to discuss Mayor Kim Norton's emergency order, which was signed Saturday morning and needed council approval to continue beyond three days.
The Rochester City Council is joined Sunday night by City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage, lower right corner, during an online meeting to discuss Mayor Kim Norton's emergency order, which was signed Saturday morning and needed council approval to continue beyond three days.
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ROCHESTER — A short-term mask mandate received nearly unanimous Rochester City Council support Sunday.

"It will be rough, but I think we will get through this together," Council President Brooke Carlson said of the directive aimed to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. "Please support one another and our businesses as we look to uphold this mandate."

Council member Mark Bransford, who cast the sole opposing vote, said he would have liked to see greater partnership with local businesses.

"If we had, I think we could have a mutually-agreed-upon mitigation measure right now," he said, suggesting Sunday's emergency meeting wouldn't have been needed.

The order is slated to expire on Feb. 7, unless other action is taken to rescind the requirement or extend it.

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The council members said Sunday that they have received an overwhelming number of emails and calls on both sides of the issue, and they said they did their best to respond to each one.

"I want the community to know we read your emails, and we take the perspective to heart," Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said, adding that the goal of the order and its Feb. 7 planned end date is intended to hit the "sweet spot" to address a rise in COVID-19 cases that is expected to peak later this month.

Here are a few things to know about the mask requirement that went into effect at 6 a.m. Sunday:

1. This is Rochester’s third mask mandate. 

Rochester’s first mask mandate started July 8, 2020. It was intended to last two months, but ended when Gov. Tim Walz declared a statewide order on July 22, 2020.

A second citywide order was issued by the mayor on Aug. 17, 2021, but the Rochester City Council rescinded the requirement in a 5-2 vote two days later.

2.. The action was taken to address the rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19. 

On Friday, Olmsted County Public Health Associate Director Denise Daniels said local hospitals and health care workers are being overwhelmed.

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With 2,700 new confirmed cases reported among Olmsted County residents last week, she said it marks a more than 400% increase in cases during a two-week period.

Norton’s order also cites the Rochester Public Schools decision to return to distance learning, and state and federal masking recommendations.

3. A person’s vaccination status doesn’t play into requirement.

Anyone older than 2 years of age is required to wear a mask in all indoor places that the public can access throughout the city, which includes bars and restaurants, entertainment venues, and other businesses.

4. Masks are required in gyms and sports facilities.

Participants, staff and spectators inside local gyms and sports-related venues must wear face coverings at all times when they are unable to remain 6 feet away from another person.

Affected venues include pools, trampoline parks, gymnastics facilities, hockey and skating arenas, and facilities with climbing walls.

5. Masks can be removed in some instances. 

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Restaurant customers must wear a face mask unless seated at a table, and the order allows the ability to remove the masks for eating and drinking.

In some instances, when a continued 6-foot separation from others can be maintained, a mask can be removed under the order.

6. Other exemptions exist. 

The emergency order carves out specific instances when masks are not required indoors.

The order does not apply to:

  • Children 2 years old or younger
  • Anyone actively eating or drinking
  • Anyone unable to wear a face covering due to medical, disability or developmental reasons
  • People speaking to an audience, whether in person or through broadcast, as long as the speaker remains 6 feet or more away from others
  • Anyone speaking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and requires the mouth to be visible to communicate
  • Youth sports participants
  • Athletes, performers and supporting staff competing or performing at indoor spaces that are licensed or controlled by the city

7. The order does not dictate what types of masks should be worn. 

While the mayor's order does not dictate mask types, it points to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations when considering choices.

The federal agency recommends wearing the most protective option that fits well, noting that N95 and KN95 masks, along with other medical-grade masks, are considered the most effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Multi-layer cloth masks are still considered helpful in limiting the spread of the virus, but gaiters, bandannas and knitted masks have been shown to be ineffective, according to the CDC.

8. Violating the mandate is not a criminal offense. 

The owner of a business can ask anyone who refuses to comply with the mask requirement to leave, but failing to wear a mask is not a crime.

If someone refuses the request to leave, the refusal can be considered a violation of trespassing laws.

Businesses holding city permits, which include bars and restaurants selling alcohol, could face administrative action from the city, if they violate the order.

9. The decision means all Minnesota Cities of the First Class are under masking requirements.

Rochester is the fourth and last Minnesota city with a population greater than 100,000 to enact a mask mandate in recent weeks.

Mandates were ordered in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Jan. 5, and the Duluth City Council unanimously approved an order on Friday, Jan. 14.

Jan. 15 Rochester Emergency Declaration by inforumdocs on Scribd

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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