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Policymakers Weigh Mask Mandates, Public Pressure

Health experts say public compliance with mask use could play a big role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. (Adobe Stock)
Health experts say public compliance with mask use could play a big role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. (Adobe Stock)
July 13, 2020

WINONA, Minn. -- Cities in Minnesota have openly debated mask mandates to protect residents from contracting COVID-19 and to stem the spread. And while a statewide rule from Gov. Tim Walz could come soon, local governments are navigating a public health issue that some say trumps personal freedoms.

During a recent Winona City Council meeting, members discussed the growing pressure to enact some type of requirement for residents to wear face coverings in public settings. Council member Paul Schollmeier said he's heard legitimate concern from constituents.

"In particular, some of the public facilities that require constituents to go to, and not feeling that they're being protected", Schollmeier said.

Other council members supported the idea but wondered aloud if it's feasible to enforce a mandate, or if people should be given the option to decide for themselves. Some in the U.S. feel requiring masks infringes on their personal freedoms, but many legal experts say the Constitution gives elected officials broad powers to enact these types of policies in a public health emergency.

Winona has established a temporary order requiring masks inside public buildings or anywhere physical distancing is difficult. In neighboring Iowa, municipal governments have been prohibited by state government from taking such action.

Tom Rendon, a community activist from Des Moines, said with cases there on the rise again, these kids of restrictions are frustrating. He said the lack of a statewide mandate creates confusion over best practices.

"All of this was preventable with a coherent forward plan, and that's not what we're seeing," Rendon said.

So far, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has resisted a statewide mask mandate, saying she feels confident individuals will make the right choice. The state Attorney General has said local governments can only issue emergency orders that are consistent with the governor's proclamations.

Nationwide, at least 20 states have adopted mask requirements.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN