The Potluck

State Senate votes down mask mandate weeks after senator died of COVID-19

By: - January 7, 2021 2:54 pm

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.

The Republican majority state Senate rejected a requirement Thursday that members and staff wear masks where legislative business is conducted to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Senators, who abide by a strict dress code in the chamber that includes ties for men, professional wear for women and shirts and shoes for all, opted instead for a rule that “encourages” but does not require them. As Theo Keith reported, the vote was 36-31.

State Sen. Jerry Relph, a St. Cloud Republican, died in December from complications of COVID-19, the first Minnesota lawmaker felled by the disease. He tested positive after attending an indoor post-election party where few people wore masks, according to later media reports, and an indoor GOP caucus meeting. His daughter told the Reformer that she believes that her father was infected because of the lack of precautions by his GOP colleagues.

The mask mandate was offered by Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington.

Keith reports that eight Republicans did not wear masks during Tuesday’s floor session.

The evidence on mask wearing to prevent the spread of the disease is considerable.

MinnPost writer Peter Callaghan reported that state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, cited University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm in his argument against the mandate, even though Osterholm has explicitly warned people from doing so: “Stop citing (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) and me as grounds to not wear masks, whether mandated or not.”

A new senator noted the many rules of decorum that members of the upper chamber abide by, and she threatened to wear a bathrobe or swimsuit on the Senate floor to show the absurdity of rejecting the mask mandate.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children