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St. Cloud to consider mask requirement

By Kirsti Marohn, Minnesota Public Radio News

St. Cloud officials will consider Monday night whether to join the growing number of Minnesota cities mandating the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The City Council will debate an emergency ordinance that would require people to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces.

It includes several exemptions, including children under age 5 and people who are unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition.

Council member George Hontos asked that the city consider a mask requirement.

“I thought it was time that the city of St. Cloud to adopt a policy that was consistent with all the health experts, from the national level all the way to the state level, to try to protect the well-being of our citizens,” he said.

Several other Minnesota cities, including Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester, already have adopted mask requirements. Gov. Tim Walz said on Friday he is still debating whether to adopt a statewide mandate.

Central Minnesota has been a hot spot for the coronavirus, with more than 2,600 confirmed cases in Stearns County.

CentraCare Health, the region’s largest health care provider, is advocating for the St. Cloud mandate. Dr. George Morris, CentraCare’s medical incident commander for COVID-19, said public health officials’ strategy to control the virus’ spread depends on the widespread use of masks, but statistics show only about 40 percent of people always wear one when they go out.

“We think masks are important in basically any enclosed space, and especially important when you can’t maintain 6-foot social distancing, either inside or outside,” Morris said.

City Council members have received letters both in support of and opposed to the proposal.

“I am alarmed by the number of people who are not wearing masks while in stores, and feel unsafe patronizing most local businesses, with the exception of the few that require masks,” wrote Brittany Merritt Nash, who urged the council to adopt the mandate.

Jennifer Davis of Clearwater, Minn., who said she does most of her shopping in the St. Cloud area, urged the council not to make mask-wearing mandatory.

“Please take into consideration that mandates require enforcement … and the city should not be using police resources to enforce a mask wearing ordinance, especially during such a strained time between residents and police,” Davis wrote.

Hontos said about 60 percent of the people who have contacted him support the mask mandate. He said he’s disappointed that wearing masks has become a political issue.

“It’s not a perfect solution, but obviously it has a positive impact in preventing the source of the virus from spreading,” Hontos said. “And I just don’t know why we all don’t have the willingness to take a little step to help each other.”