A federal judge hearing a challenge to Minnesota's mandate requiring youth athletes to wear masks in practices and games said he would decide the matter "relatively quickly'' after a virtual hearing Friday in U.S. District Court.

Judge Eric Tostrud questioned lawyers for Let Them Play MN, an advocacy group seeking a preliminary injunction to repeal the action, and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, representing Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials.

Let Them Play sued Walz in January, citing equal protection and due process violations that it claims unfairly single out youth athletes. Attorney Sam Diehl argued in the hearing that the Minnesota Health Department manipulated data to make youth sports appear less safe and has ignored data showing greater harm caused to athletes who have had health problems while wearing masks during vigorous activity.

The state, in a response filed earlier this week, called the group's challenge "light on the law'' and "heavy on conspiracy theories and absurd accusations.'' Assistant attorney general Cicely Miltich said in court that the state's COVID-19 response has evolved as more has been learned about the virus. She noted that mask-wearing in general was not recommended by Center for Disease Control and Prevention when the pandemic began in March.

After questioning both sides, Tostrud gave each lawyer up to 20 minutes to provide more information before taking the case under advisement and promising to rule "as quickly as we can.''

Youth athletes are finishing their fifth week of wearing masks since the requirement kicked in when winter sports practices resumed on Jan, 4. Walz had previously put youth sports on hold in mid-November amid a spike in COVID-19 cases fueled by community transmission of the virus.

The hearing, which last more than 90 minutes, was delayed briefly at the start as members of the public joined the listen-only call and a court official ensured all connections were muted. Let Them Play MN, which runs a Facebook group with more than 25,000 members, circulated the call-in information via social media during the week.

Minnesota is one of 20 states that have mandated that masks be worn during competition, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Another 13 states have mask mandates during practices, the group's tracking of state associations shows.