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Rochester, Mankato to require masks indoors in fight against COVID-19

By Catharine Richert and Hannah Yang, Minnesota Public Radio News

The southern Minnesota cities of Rochester and Mankato approved new mandates Monday that will require people to wear face masks indoors out in public, in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Rochester mandate goes into effect on Wednesday — July 8. It passed 6-1, and applies to places like indoor restaurant and bar seating, gyms, public transportation and retail businesses.

If customers won’t comply, businesses can call on law enforcement for trespassing. Businesses that violate the order would be subject to administrative action for licenses they hold with the city.

The Mankato city council also approved the city’s mandate Monday night with the required five votes out of the seven members. It goes into effect on Friday — July 10 — and is set to last 60 days.

The new rules comes as state public health officials track clusters of cases associated with bar-hopping, and as cases spike among younger people in Minnesota and elsewhere.

In Rochester, the loudest calls for a masking mandate came from the city’s massive medical community, centered on Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center. At Mayo, masks for providers and patients have been required for weeks.

They urged city leaders to mandate mask-wearing, arguing it is critical to preserving the city’s reputation as a medical destination and its economy, which relies heavily on people coming to Rochester from out of town for care.

“I’m disappointed we’ve had to come to this,” said Annalissa Johnson, who represents the city’s 6th Ward and who voted for the mandate. “I’d like to think people can be responsible on their own.”

Officials statewide are under increasing pressure to take a stand on the issue after the Minnesota Medical Association, which represents thousands of practitioners across the state, last week asked for mandatory masking requirements.

State health experts are urging Gov. Tim Walz to require people to wear masks in public statewide amid concerns that the spike in coronavirus cases elsewhere could happen in Minnesota.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul already require people to wear masks inside businesses and other indoor facilities. In Duluth, local officials initially had hoped to normalize the practice rather than enforce it, but the Duluth City Council is now set to vote July 13 on an emergency ordinance that would require them.

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