Walz considering a statewide mask mandate

    Wearing gloves and a mask, a merchant fills an order at the Rochester Farmers Market. Gov. Tim Walz is considering a mandatory mask order. Photo by CHOOCHOO-ca-CHEW/Tiffany Alexandria.

    Gov. Tim Walz said today he’s considering a statewide mandate that people wear masks in public to combat COVID-19. 

    He said Republican governors are also exploring the idea.

    “All these things are difficult decisions to make,” he said. “The best thing we can do is keep social distance, wear the mask, and if you’re sick, stay home.”

    Walz also said governors told Vice President Mike Pence on a Monday phone call he could change the trajectory of the pandemic if he and President Donald Trump would wear masks.

    “The response was relatively positive from the vice president, that ‘We hear you,’ ” Walz said.

    Walz announced the state has reached its goal of being able to do 20,000 COVID-19 tests per day, and has done a half million tests statewide since the pandemic began.

    He announced the state’s advanced testing program two months ago, with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota providing additional testing capacity to more than 265 health care organizations. 

    So far, Mayo Clinic has provided over 280,000 diagnostic tests to Minnesotans, delivered supplies to collection sites and helped bring specimens to labs for testing. The university transformed research labs into testing sites.

    “We are certainly not here taking a victory lap,” he said. “We’re going to have to learn to live with and manage COVID-19 for quite some time.”

    Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that “incredible capacity” doesn’t do a lot of good, however, unless people seek the tests, and she encourages people who feel ill or have been exposed to coronavirus to get tested.

    During the past week 11,240 people were tested daily, or 16% more than previous weeks. The state is testing more people but finding fewer cases since a May peak, but Malcolm expects the daily numbers to fluctuate as people interact more and social gatherings increase.

    Malcolm said state officials are also discussing how to make sure their guidance to bars is taken – given recent outbreaks linked to watering holes. Mankato has about 200 cases associated with bars, and the Twin Cities has about 100, she said.

    Walz said bars are hotspots for the virus, but he doesn’t blame all bar owners, since sometimes it’s difficult to get patrons to follow the rules.

    “At some point in time, the carrot turns to the stick,” he said. “The bars right now are not safe.”