DULUTH - A Duluth City Council member will propose a new citywide mask ordinance at a Monday meeting, in a move that divided members when it was announced Thursday night.
Council Member Terese Tomanek, an Essentia Health chaplain, proposed reinstating a mask mandate during an agenda session, citing hospitals full of pediatric and adult COVID-19 patients, taxed health care workers and the reinstatement of mandates in Minneapolis and St. Paul this week as the omicron variant of COVID-19 rapidly spreads. The indoor public space mandate would use the city's emergency powers to enforce. Some council members were shocked and voiced immediate opposition.
"This is just a dictatorship pushing forward," said Council Member Derek Medved, an owner of convenience stores who cited worry about businesses being taken by surprise, having no time to prepare employees. "We need the input of our community."
The city's previous mandate in 2020 — approved unanimously — came just before Gov. Tim Walz required masks statewide. The lack of a statewide mandate will make it harder to enforce, said Council Member Roz Randorf.
"We can create policy," but policy that isn't followed is a "waste of everyone's time," she said.
Tomanek, who said she'd worked with St. Louis County public health, was expected to propose an ordinance, with a yet-to-be-named co-signer. Council members must first vote to use emergency powers, and if that passes unanimously, they will vote on an ordinance that would immediately go into effect. That also must pass unanimously, said City Attorney Rebecca St. George. If the council doesn't agree to use emergency powers, the ordinance could be amended to push a vote to another night, either at a regularly scheduled or rare special meeting. An approved mandate then would take effect 30 days from that vote.
Tomanek said the situation is an emergency and can't wait for that process.
"The positivity rate has escalated so much this past week," she said. "It became apparent to me to wait is not an option."
St. Louis County recorded 628 positive cases last week, although that number doesn't include positive home tests.
At least two of the nine council members seemed opposed to the ordinance.
Community reaction was swift and mixed. Fifteen e-mails were sent to council members overnight and several earlier in the week upon news of the Twin Cities mandates.
Calling it a "human rights issue," resident Sara Baldwin wrote she was "surprised, frustrated and a bit disgusted" by some reaction to the proposal.
"Frankly, I do not understand how it has not already been put into place considering what our hospitals, schools and child care centers are facing right now," she said. "It's so easy to wear a mask."
Kelly Ziebell wrote that masks weren't necessary with the existence of testing and vaccines.
"I'm sick and tired that it's my responsibility to protect others when [there are] people who won't get the vaccine," she said. "It should be up to us if we want to help protect others."
Monday's City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m.