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Gov. Walz orders statewide face mask mandate, here's what it means

The order goes into effect at midnight Friday.

Gov. Tim Walz has announced on Wednesday that Minnesota will become the latest state to implement a face mask mandate as part of its response to COVID-19.

Walz's move comes after several weeks in which cities, businesses, and organizations across Minnesota have introduced face mask requirements.

Here's a look at what the order will mean: 

  • The order goes into effect at midnight Friday.
  • Face masks must be worn in all indoor businesses and public spaces including places of work, offices, bars and restaurants (except when eating/drinking), public transportation and ride-share cars, entertainment venues, and retail stores.
  • Masks must be worn in K-12 schools, including on school buses.
  • They are also required when waiting outdoors to enter an indoor business.
  • Cities in Minnesota are permitted to adopt stricter, but not weaker rules.
  • Businesses must post notices informing people of face mask requirements, and ensure customers/workers are compliant, though the order says that "nothing ... requires businesses" to enforce the rule when it's not safe to do so, nor are they required to physically remove those flouting the rules.
  • Children aged 5 or younger are exempt, as are those with particular health needs that makes it unsafe to wear a mask.
  • It doesn't apply to private living units except for workers who enter a person's home, or visitors, patients, or inmates at congregate living facilities, long-term care homes and hospitals.
  • It's also required for workers working outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
  • Violating the order is a petty misdemeanor carrying a $100 fine for individuals. For businesses it's a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail, as well as possible civil penalties.
  • The mandate expires when the peacetime emergency ends.

“COVID-19 has impacted every corner of our state and every aspect of our lives,” said Governor Walz. “But as Minnesotans always do during tough times, we come together and we take care of one another. And right now there’s no better way to demonstrate our Minnesotan values than by wearing a mask. By combatting the spread of COVID-19, masking will help protect our neighbors, keep our businesses open, and get us on track to return to the activities we love.”

On Tuesday, state epidemiologist Michael Osterholm said that mask wearing will "provide potentially some protection" from COVID-19, albeit says even more effective is maintaining more than 6 feet of distance.

The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) also backs mask wearing, saying it can help reduce the amount of droplets emitted from an infected or asymptomatic person when they talk, laugh, sneeze, or cough.

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Minnesota has had more success over the past month at keeping COVID-19 rates relatively stable compared to neighboring states and those in the south of the U.S., and Walz says wearing masks and continuing social distancing is vital if the state is to allow students to return to school and keep businesses open.

Even before it was officially announced, the mask mandate drew criticism from Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, who along with many of his Republican colleagues has not worn a face mask during recent legislative sessions.

He criticized it as a "one-size-fits-all" approach that "won't work well for every situation," though he doesn't explain which situations these would be.

He also says the mandate is less necessary given that 40 counties in the state have had zero deaths, and because deaths and ICU usage rates have stabilized statewide. 

Even without hospitalization, COVID-19 can result in a serious bout of illness that can last weeks, and at the minimum requires 7-10 days of home isolation from the time symptoms first appear.

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