Minnetonka and Rochester have approved citywide mask mandates in response to the ongoing surge of omicron infections, bringing the list of Minnesota cities with the public health requirement to seven.
The ripple effect of mask mandates first passed in Minneapolis and St. Paul has spread to a few suburbs, including Golden Valley, Hopkins and now Minnetonka. Other recent additions include Rochester, the state's third largest city, and Duluth, which at first rejected a mandate before the mayor enacted an emergency 30-day mandate on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Park City Council will consider adopting a mask mandate. An emergency declaration that was passed in Brooklyn Center last August remains in effect, requiring masks in schools and all city-operated sites.
Many suburbs passed on issuing a mandate, saying such regulation is unenforceable. Some communities, such as Edina and Bloomington, instead went the less politically divisive route of passing resolutions that strongly encourage residents to mask up.
Minnetonka's mandate takes effect Monday at midnight and expires March 19. Rochester's went into effect Sunday morning and expires Feb. 7 unless the City Council votes to extend the emergency order. Rochester Mayor Kim Norton signed an emergency order on Saturday and the council approved it by a 6-1 vote during a meeting Sunday night.
Both mandates apply to all indoor public spaces although age requirements differ. The mandate applies to anyone over the age of 5 in Minnetonka, while Rochester's mandate exempts children under the age of 2.
Reactions to Minnetonka's mandate were mixed. Leading up to the virtual vote on Friday, the City Council received nearly 580 emails from people explaining why they were opposed or in support.
"My son cannot wear a mask while he exercises. I will have to pull him from skating lessons. ... Please don't make me disappoint my son," one resident wrote.
"Burying our heads in the sand because we're too afraid we'll make someone mad will not make the virus disappear. Save lives, help our overwhelmed and exhausted caregivers, free up hospital beds. … Wear a Mask!" another resident wrote.
Masking requirements reached a boiling point for the Minnetonka School Board last year in standing room only meetings, which drove historic turnout in the November election. The school district requires masks for all students and staff in grades K-8, while it strongly recommends masks for grades 9-12. Face coverings are required on all school buses.
Rochester's mandate comes at a time when the school district on Monday is returning to distance learning until Jan. 28 because of staff absences and an increase in student illness.
Minnetonka City Council first adopted a face mask mandate in July 2020, but it was preempted by Gov. Tim Walz's statewide executive order. Re-instating a mandate in Minnetonka was first discussed Monday and continued Friday so that staff could prepare ordinances and notify 700 businesses as well as apartment owners.
Violations of the mandate in Rochester and Minnetonka will not result in a criminal offense, but if an individual fails to comply and refuses to leave when asked, officers may enforce trespassing laws. Businesses found in violation are subject to administrative action against city issued licenses.
Star Tribune staff writer Richard Chin contributed to this report.