Hennepin County has become the first county in the state to require employees and visitors to public areas to wear masks to protect against the COVID-19 virus, effective Thursday.
The County Board voted 5-2 on Tuesday to comply with state and federal health recommendations. Commissioners Mike Opat and Jeff Johnson voted against the measure because, they said, it will be impossible to enforce and lead to confrontations with county staffers.
"If the county is going to enforce this, they better be able to back it up," said Opat. "We can't be selective on who just gets advised to wear a mask and who gets reprimanded."
The board also recommended that the county's 9,000 employees do daily self-health checks, which would consist of taking their own temperatures. Assistant County Administrator Dan Rogan said the proposal was a necessary response to Gov. Tim Walz's newly relaxed restrictions for staying at home.
"This proposal represents the right balance between safety of residents and employees and the new health recommendations," said Board Chairwoman Marion Greene.
Johnson argued that requiring people entering county buildings to wear a mask is "going to get ugly and messy." Even after the virus threat is gone, he said, there will still be germs bouncing around the Government Center. He asked whether the county would mandate masks then.
Requiring people to wear a mask is the most important thing the county can do during this unprecedented pandemic, said Commissioner Angela Conley. Greene said the county has more than 700,000 masks available.
The board also discussed opening several more libraries for curbside service, and the possible purchase of a hotel to house the homeless or other people in need of affordable housing.