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Minnesota is one of America's worst COVID hotspots as winter approaches, but there remains a reluctance among state and city leaders to implement some of the measures that were seen during the first year of the pandemic.

While last November and December saw a temporary shutdown of bars and restaurants as Minnesota experienced its worst COVID surge to date, similar orders from the office of Gov. Tim Walz will not be forthcoming this year as he relinquished his emergency powers in the summer.

He could declare another peacetime emergency, but in doing so would trigger a special session of the Legislature, and Senate Republicans have in the past intimated that they would use such a session to oust the state's Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

In a statement to BMTN, Walz's office said last week he has been urging the Legislature since the most recent delta-driven spike to pass a series of measures that could improve hospital and long-term care capacity, require vaccines/testing for the state's school staff, and get emergency payments out to essential workers.

Last week he also said that he would not be bringing back some of the measures seen in 2020, such as the statewide mask mandate, not least because he doesn't believe enough people will follow it to make a difference even in spite of the rising COVID death toll that's hit Greater Minnesota particularly hard in the past few months.

Walz said the easiest and most effective way of reducing the spike is getting as many people vaccinated for COVID – and boosted – as possible.

Some school districts have been taking steps to prevent COVID spread by requiring students and staff to wear masks, with some even shifting to remote learning to curb outbreaks.

While a statewide face mask mandate won't be returning, cities and municipalities can implement a public indoor mask mandate themselves should they so wish, but as of early last week, there doesn't seem to be any on the cards for some of Minnesota's biggest cities.

Of the seven cities we asked, only Rochester Mayor Kim Norton expressed an interest in bringing back a mask requirement, but she is awaiting movement from the City Council.

Here's how each of the cities we asked answered:

Bloomington

City spokesperson: "Bloomington is continuing to follow the guidelines of the CDC and MDH, and are closely monitoring the continuing high rate of community spread. Through the local state of emergency we had in place in Bloomington, we required masking indoors in city-owned facilities. However, we did not have an emergency order or ordinance making face coverings a requirement in the community."

Duluth

City spokesperson: "The City of Duluth continues to track local and state COVID cases and is in close communication with our hospital systems, St. Louis County public health and the State of Minnesota. The City requires masks in all City buildings for the safety of our staff and the public, but does not have a public masking policy."

Edina

"There no talk of that [a mask mandate] in Edina," a city spokesperson said.

Minneapolis

Office of Mayor Frey: "Mayor Frey and the Minneapolis Health Department leadership are coordinating closely with State and County public health leaders amid the increase in COVID cases. The mayor will continue taking a data-first approach when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Minneapolis residents and our local government’s response to the pandemic. The City is also actively working to promote and equitably expand access to vaccines — the most effective way to prevent and mitigate community spread."

Note: Masks are still required in all Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board buildings, including including recreation centers, ice arenas, The Trailhead and the Kroening Interpretative Center.

Rochester

Mayor Kim Norton: "The City Attorney has prepared a declaration of emergency resolution with a masking requirement per my instruction back in August/September. When and if the City Council will support the resolution I am more than ready to propose it again. To date, I have not had anyone indicate interest. The Council President and Administration know my recommendation and position – they also know that the resolution has been prepared."

St. Cloud

"Nothing at the city level," Mayor Da

St. Paul

The office of Mayor Melvin Carter said that while there are no plans to expand the public health measures already in place, it is encouraging its residents to get vaccinated and continues to monitor any concerning rises in COVID cases alongside Ramsey County Public Health.

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