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Rochester mask mandate starts Sunday morning

Mayor Kim Norton signs an emergency order calling for indoor mask requirement through Feb. 7

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A sign reads "masks are required" at the skyway entry to the Rochester Public Library from the Civic Center Parking Ramp Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Mayor Kim Norton has signed a  Declaration of Local Emergency  requiring the use of masks in all indoor areas accessible to the public.

The requirement, which applies regardless of a person's vaccination status, begins at 6 a.m. Sunday and is set to remain in place through Feb. 7, unless rescinded sooner. 

The order follows two days of discussions between the mayor and Rochester City Council members to set details and a time period that is expected to meet with the approval of at least four council members.

The council will hold an emergency meeting at 7 p.m. Sunday to vote on whether to support the order. Without council support, the mayor's order expires in three days from when she signed it.

Council President Brooke Carlson said Saturday there appears to be enough council support to extend the order.

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Sunday's meeting, which will not include time for public comment, will be fully virtual, with nearly all council members and participating staff connecting online.

The meeting is expected to be available on Spectrum cable channels 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80.

Access using Zoom software will available online with the web address https://bit.ly/3219Dsi

Audio of the meeting will also be available by calling 312-626-6799 and using the Webinar ID 889 4911 0528 and the passcode 325174

Norton said she issued Saturday's order in response to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, with the goal of protecting vulnerable residents and helping to ease the strain on the local health-care system.

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

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.

While the mayor's order does not dictate mask types , it cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which call for wearing face masks that have two or more layers. It also noted that gaiters, bandanas and knitted masks have been shown to be ineffective and that the CDC has cautioned against using cloth masks, with procedural or surgical masks show to be more effective against the Omicron variant.

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The new citywide mask requirement does call for people to don a mask whenever entering an indoor public space, including restaurants and other businesses, but it allows for removal when seated at individual tables or in certain cases when a person can maintain a 6-foot distance from others.

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

Violating the order is not a criminal offense, but anyone failing to comply can be asked to leave a business or other public space. Businesses can contact the Rochester Police Department and request that trespassing laws be enforced if someone refuses to leave.
Businesses holding city permits, which include bars and restaurants selling alcohol, could face administrative action from the city, if they violate the order.

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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