DULUTH — As Gov. Tim Walz stood in line to pick up a sandwich at Northern Waters Smokehaus on Friday, he noticed just about everyone around him wore a mask — even though they didn’t have to, since they were waiting outdoors.

“I think we’re at a critical juncture here where we’ve got an awful lot of buy-in from people in Minnesota and they know we can make a difference in this,” Walz said. “We want to keep people in business, we want to try and get our kids back in school, and the way we control that is the mask, the social distancing, the hand washing.”

With COVID-19 cases rising faster in St. Louis County than nearly anywhere else in the state — in the past week 119 cases have been added, a 31% increase — the governor visited a food bank in Duluth on Friday to highlight the 400,000 free masks being handed out through community groups around the state.

“I am concerned about the rising numbers; they’re still manageable,” Walz said. “Follow these rules, because my biggest fear is having to turn back the dials ... I don’t think we’re at that point.”

More than a quarter of the county’s 502 total cases have been confirmed in the past two weeks, meaning they still require self-isolation. The spike in infections comes during peak tourism season for the region.

The governor said he would feel comfortable bringing his family to visit the area while considering a “sense of responsibility to the people up here.”

“We want people to come up and spend their money, but you don’t want them to bring COVID,” he said. “That’s where I hope we helped out with the mandate on masks — people are doing it.”

Without the rebound in visitors, Duluth’s sales-tax-reliant budget could be in even worse shape than anticipated. Asked what more the state could do to help cities staring down big holes in their budgets, Walz said he is pressing for another federal relief package and the ability for cities to spend their money more freely to patch disappearing revenue.