Council passes mask ordinance

Businesses, unions, health care supported unprecedented order

by Jim Lundstrom

When the Duluth city council met on July 13, more than an hour of the session was spent taking calls from constituents, most of whom weighed in on defunding police, and, in particular, the Duluth Police Department.

Eloquent arguments were made for a more informed way to dispense public money to deal with society’s problems. No one called to not defund the police, and only one caller strayed from the subject of giving less public money to the police, and that was a man calling about the face mask ordinance the council would go on that night to discuss and eventually unanimously pass.

“I will refuse to pay a fine for an unconstitutional mandate, and will take legal action against the city,” the man told the council. “Know that I will not let it go.”
He reasoned that if they passed an ordinance requiring face masks in Duluth, it would illegally compel him “to make others feel more comfortable.”

While the councilors were well aware that not everyone would be happy with a mask mandate, the sponsors of the ordinance spoke at length about the importance of protecting the community’s health and wealth by requiring masks as the COVID-19 virus infection picks up new speed through apathetic behavior among the pandemic-weary public.

And each mentioned the widespread support they had received for the mask ordinance. Of course the health industry weighed in for masks, but the councilors also mentioned the Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Downtown Council, the Duluth Transit Authority, local unions and many individual business owners who can’t afford another shutdown.

“I believe it’s time for Duluth to lead on this,” said Councilor Arik Forsman, one of the co-sponsors of the mask ordinance.

“Public safety and health is top priority,” Forsman said. “It’s also about protecting our economy.”

Yes, he said, masks are hot and uncomfortable, “But the science is pretty clear,” he said.

Displaying a purple Vikings-related mask, Forsman said, “Find one that we like.”
Councilor Terese Tomanek, another sponsor, also cited the hospitals, unions and business organizations who registered support for the ordinance. She also mentioned two separate business surveys that found a two-to-one ration in favor of the ordinance.

“Businesses have been pleading with us so they might stay open and not go through the struggle of another shutdown,” Tomanek said.

“Wearing a mask is a kindness we do to others,” she said.

Councilor Janet Kennedy, the only black member of the council and a co-sponsor of the ordinance, made an amazing statement to bridge the gap between those vehemently opposed to mask wearing by directly addressing them.

The people who are not supporting this in our community are in the minority, and as someone who has lived in the minority, I know what you’re feeling,” she said.

She said to them, “Know that you have been heard,” but added, “We have a duty and responsibility to keep our community healthy.”

“This vote is really weighing on me,” said Councilor Joel Sipress, also a sponsor of the ordinance. “Of all the votes I’ve cast, this may be one of the ones that weighs on me most heavily because we’re about to do something we would never do in normal times.”

Noting that “people in the community challenged us to take this on” and that other people in the community are saying “who are you to decide what we have a right to do?” Sipress said councilors must step up and do the job they were elected to do, and in this case, it is to protect their community.

“We have to make these kinds of decisions because someone has to,” he said. “Look around the country and see what happens when no one makes decisions. Too many people who have these positions of responsibility have not been willing to make these decisions….I think we’re making the right decision. I think our community is going to step up to the plate together to get us through this.”

Once the ordinance was unanimously approved, Council President Gary Anderson also addressed those unhappy with the council’s decision. He mentioned folks with asthma and claustrophobia are going to be challenged by wearing masks, but suggested they find “the one that’s most comfortable for you.”

He also asked dissenters to focus their anger and discomfort at the council who enacted the ordinance “and not your neighbors.”

Ordinance details

Masks must be worn in any “Space of Public Accommodation,” which means a business or an educational, refreshment, entertainment or recreation facility, or public transportation, or an institution of any kind, whether licensed or not, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments, Duluth Transit Authority buses, facilities, and bus shelters, government buildings, the Duluth Skywalk system, places of worship, and service establishments as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities, and service centers.

Exceptions

1: Persons under the age of 10 years old;
2: Persons unable to wear Face Coverings for genuine medical reasons;
3: Persons in a private room of a multi-tenant residence, such as an apartment building, or lodging establishment, such as a hotel, motel, or vacation rental. Face Coverings must be worn in all indoor common areas of said establishments;
4: Business patrons who are actively eating and/or drinking provided that all individuals wear a Face Covering when walking to or from their seat and while standing in or walking through public areas such as lobbies and restrooms;
5: Business owners, managers, and employees who are in an area of a business establishment that is not open to customers, patrons, or the public, provided that six feet of distance exist between persons;
6: Education and child care facilities with written plans in compliance with state guidelines;
7: Fitness facilities with written plans in compliance with state guidelines;
8: In settings where it is not feasible to wear a Face Covering, including when obtaining or rendering goods or services such as the receipt of medical or dental services, swimming, or while actively participating in organized athletic competitions or practices; and
9: Police officers, fire fighters and other first responders when not practical or engaged in a public safety matter.
• Violations of this Section (34-45) by Spaces of Public Accommodation are punishable by one or more of the following:
   1: Issuance of warning letter(s);
   2: Fines not to exceed those set in accordance with Section 31-8 of this Code for the first and second offenses and a fine as provided in Section 1-7 of this Code for all subsequent offenses;
3: Misdemeanor criminal prosecution pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 12.45.
 Violations by persons are punishable by one or more of the following:
 1: Civil trespass from the Space of Public Accommodation;
 2: Prosecution, if applicable, for trespass in violation of Duluth City Code 34-30; and/or
3: Criminal prosecution, if applicable, for criminal trespass in violation of Minnesota Statutes Section 609.605.

Ashland, Bayfield counties issue mask advisory

Ashland and Bayfield counties on Monday issued an emergency advisory “requiring face coverings.”

The advisory takes effect 8 a.m. Friday and “stipulates that everyone age 5 and older wear a face covering or mask when in any enclosed build-ing where other people, except for members of the person’s own house-hold or living unit could be present. This advisory applies to all of Ashland and Bayfield County.”

“Public health research shows that face coverings are critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Given the number of infections in our counties and surrounding area, as well as the multitude of visitors coming to our area, we need to all be wearing face coverings every time we leave the house,” Elizabeth Szot, Ashland County health officer, said in the Monday release.

As of Monday, 15 residents in Ashland and Bayfield counties had tested positive for COVID-19, up from just five a couple of weeks ago. Surrounding counties also are seeing surges in reported cases following the arrival of summer visitors; Iron County as of Monday had 17 reported cases; Douglas County stood at 61, and Sawyer County recorded 15.

“We do not take this advisory lightly,” Sara Wartman, Bayfield County health officer, said in the press release. “It is on every person in our communities to do better. People should assume that everyone wearing a mask is doing it to protect you and themselves. If someone is not wearing a mask, assume they are genuinely not able to do so.”

Wartman adds, “given the recent rapid increases in cases in our counties, which has happened even before school and college classes resume this fall-it is imperative we take this step now to try and slow the spread of COVID through our communities.”
The order says everyone should wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in public, which includes in businesses, health care settings, waiting in line and on public transportation.

It also says people should wear masks while in someone else’s home and exempts those with physical, mental or developmental conditions that prevents them from wearing a mask.

The advisory comes following a surge in local coronavirus cases, many of them connected to a hockey tournament held in late June in Ashland.

A total of 93 people were being monitored by the Ashland County Health Department Monday, including people who have had contacts with known COVID-19 patients and those who are symptomatic and still have test results pending. The county also has cleared 1,812 cases that were being monitored and have had three cases of people with COVID-19 who have recovered.

Szot said Monday that at least four of Ashland County’s five new cases are connected to the tourney at the Bay Area Civic Center.

She said the fifth case involves a resident who traveled away from the Bay Area and contracted the virus while out of town.

Both adults and children have been tied to the hockey event that drew participants from three states to Ashland. One person who came down with the illness was a resident of Bayfield County who became ill after attending the tournament.
Wartman urged anyone who may have attended the tournament to get tested for COVID-19 infection.