By Amanda McKnight
With some Minnesota cities — most recently Rochester and Mankato — approving face mask mandates, Mayor Bill Mars said the topic could arise in Shakopee in the coming weeks if Gov. Tim Walz doesn’t take statewide action first.
To date, there’s been little talk of considering a mask mandate in Shakopee, Mars said, but if the governor doesn’t take action himself or COVID-19 cases start increasing in the region, the Shakopee City Council will have a public discussion about it.
“I think it’s something maybe to explore,” Mars said. “We don’t want to become the next Texas, Arizona, Florida, and start to see a big spike. Right now it’s a personal choice. I feel the governor is going to do it.”
If Walz hasn’t mandated face masks by the council’s July 21 meeting, local discussions will likely begin then, Mars said.
He added that there are many questions around enforcement of such a mandate.
The city of Rochester’s mask ordinance states that failing to wear a mask in a public space is not a criminal offense. The ordinance states that individuals failing to comply will be asked to leave by an authorized representative of the business or organization. If that person refuses to leave, law enforcement may enforce trespassing laws.
If a business fails to comply with the Rochester mask ordinance, it “shall be subject to administrative action for any licenses they possess within the city.”
Mars said he worries about the safety of people in the service industry who interact with maskless customers all day.
“The restaurant industry, for the most part, is required to wear masks by state law, but you as a consumer could walk into a restaurant at 50 percent capacity and not wear one,” he said. “You want those servers to (take precautions) but then what about you and the table next to you?”
Mars said he chooses to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, especially the grocery store.
Shakopee City Councilor Jay Whiting said he would have to read and assess an official proposal before deciding how he would vote, but if COVID-19 infections start to rise in our area, he would consider supporting an ordinance that mandates masks in businesses that are open to the public.
“In the name of public health and safety, I would consider it,” Whiting said. “I certainly don’t believe masks are or should be ‘political.’ It is strictly a matter of public health and safety.”
Councilor Jody Brennan said she feels the only place she, as a local elected official, could mandate face masks is in city buildings.
“I think it’s up to businesses to put rules in place,” Brennan said. “And if they don’t, it’s up to the person’s caring heart to wear one, and up to the other person to stay away from situations that put them in harm’s way.”
Brennan added that she wears a mask when she is in public spaces, and she avoids potentially risky situations.
Councilor Matt Lehman said he views mask mandates as a state issue rather than something that should be legislated by individual cities.
Lehman said he wears a mask when he is around his mother, who is in a high risk category, and he thinks it’s appropriate for those at risk or around at-risk populations to wear masks. When it comes to mandating it for the general population, though, he has concerns about enforcement and consistency.
“Enforcement would be impossible and again, unless you wear a N100 or better, you’re still able to contract,” he said. “Kind of like seatbelt laws — one city mask required, next city not required. Bad situation. The issue is best a state issue for clarity and consistency.”
Councilor Angelica Contreras said any proposed mask ordinance would have to pass the legal litmus test before she would be open to it, but she would consider supporting it.
“I think we would continue to support what the government’s recommendations would be,” she said, adding that she leans in favor of supporting a mask mandate. “I feel (masks have) helped to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Mars said he would like to see more compliance with mask recommendations without a mandate and urged people to do their part in reducing the spread of the novel virus.
“Let’s all try to do something about it,” he said.