When asked to don a mask as they enter Cafe Latte in St. Paul, some customers have walked out in a huff.
Others complied, says co-owner Bryce Quinn, but fussed whenever another customer slipped by unnoticed into the busy eatery.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that Quinn celebrated Gov. Tim Walz’s mandatory COVID-19 mask order on Wednesday.
He and his 100 workers “have been all for the statewide ban since it began even being a conversation,” Quinn said Wednesday while restocking bakery shelves.
The new order, which takes effect Saturday, requires that face masks be worn indoors in businesses, in public settings, and by workers who can’t maintain safe distances from co-workers and customers. Exceptions will be made for young children and people with certain medical conditions.
“Here in Minnesota, with this mask mandate and with the things we have previously done, I think it is possible that we [can] have the darkest days behind us,” Walz said Wednesday. Minnesota has generally seen an increase in confirmed COVID-19 case counts since mid-June, and though hospitalizations remain below earlier levels, the uptick has created unease.
With the pandemic showing renewed vigor in much of the U.S., Minnesota is joining 21 other states that are mandating masks, which have become a divisive issue with businesses often finding themselves caught in the middle.
“The biggest problem with having [the order] just be city by city is that it’s confusing,” Quinn said. “People get very used to [the rules] where they come from. And then they show up here, and we tell them they can’t actually come in without a mask and they are honestly upset with us.”
Still, reaction to mandatory mask wearing varied Wednesday, with some retailers concerned about enforcement and some employees exasperated at still being made to play the role of “mask police.”
The Minnesota Retailers Association (MnRA), with members across the state, neither supports nor opposes the mask mandate, said Bruce Nustad, the group’s president.
“We know from seeing orders in other states, that when retailers are expected to be the enforcer of mask orders it can be dangerous for retail employees,” the MnRA said in a statement. “We are hopeful a masking mandate is balanced with increases in occupancy at stores as the Governor has suggested.”
Best Buy, based in Richfield, praised Walz’s move, as did Hospitality Minnesota, which represents hotels, restaurants and resorts, the Minnesota Business Partnership, among others.
“Best Buy had workers who were spit on and punched,” because they asked customers to wear a mask, said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. “So the majority of our members support [the new statewide mask mandate].” The partnership’s members include Best Buy, Cargill, General Mills, Hormel, Target, Ecolab, 3M, Medtronic, and logistics giant C.H. Robinson.
Large businesses support Minnesota’s new mask mandate for two key reasons, Weaver said. “For one, we think it’s the smartest way to tamp down this virus. And number two, we think it’s the quickest way we can reopen the economy.”
As for those who oppose mask mandates, Weaver said they may be mollified by President Donald Trump’s modified stance this week, when he urged Americans to wear them when they can’t socially distance, acknowledging that masks “have an impact.”
Since the virus hit, Minnesota retailers have seen sales plummet 20% to 70% as they’ve been forced to spend thousands of dollars to modify their businesses.
Cub Foods, which has spent millions cleaning its grocery stores, welcomed Walz’s mandate. Safety for workers and customers “is our top priority and wearing a face covering in public spaces is simply the right thing to do,” Cub Foods Chief Executive Mike Stigers said in an e-mail. “This statewide requirement creates a consistent shopping experience across all retailers. But more importantly, it better protects everyone by slowing the potential spread of COVID-19.”
People get used to change gradually, Walz said Wednesday, noting how Americans eventually accepted smoking bans, seat belt mandates, and text-free driving laws as the norm. He called masks the “cheapest and most effective tool” to stop the virus’ spread, reopen the economy and safely return kids to school.
Valerie Doleman at Sherman Associates in Minneapolis said the Midwestern apartment, hotel and retail developer and property manager has been waiting to see what Walz would do about the mask question.
She said it’s been difficult “because apartment properties are considered private. So we can suggest or request that all residents wear masks in our common areas. But we can’t enforce it,” she said, unless the mandate was adopted by the city in which it owns properties.
Having a new statewide rule will make the matter simpler, she said, at least for its properties in Minnesota.
Jill Pavlak, co-owner of Urban Growler Brewing Co. in St. Paul, said she’s been persistently e-mailing the governor and other politicians for weeks advocating for a statewide change.
“Things are dire for restaurants and breweries,” she said. “We want to stay open. Masks matter. Most guests are grateful we are strictly enforcing masks, but about 10% give us grief.”
Now that masks are mandatory, “we don’t have to justify our position,” Pavlak said.
Staff writer John Ewoldt contributed to this report.