by CHRIS ROGERS
Now that the state order is ending, does the city of Winona’s mask mandate still apply? City officials wrote in a Facebook post last night that they aren’t sure whether an ordinance requiring masks in all public indoor spaces city-wide still applies, briefly leaving local businesses in limbo as to whether requiring masks is optional or still mandated by the city. However, Winona City Manager Steve Sarvi confirmed this morning that the local mask order is no longer in effect. That is consistent with the language of the city’s original order. State rules still mandate masks in schools, and Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) said it will still require masks. Other local companies and organizations may still choose to do so, as well.
“We have no local order,” Sarvi said. “The local order was null and void when the governor issued his last summer, so folks should comply with the governor’s executive order and that’s the order we’re under.”
Last night, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz abruptly announced he would end his statewide mask mandate today. As of Friday morning, Walz had not yet released an order formally ending the mask requirement, but his office said the signing of such an order was imminent.
The state mask requirement had been in place since last summer. Just last week Walz had announced plans to repeal it on July 1, or sooner if 70 percent of adults were vaccinated. However, Walz was under pressure to scrap those plans and the mask order after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released guidance yesterday that fully vaccinated people should not have to wear masks inside or outdoors. While Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm expressed concern — citing the large share of Minnesotans who are still unvaccinated and statewide case rates that are among the highest in the nation — the Walz administration determined that it would be too difficult to enforce a rule change allowing the vaccinated to go mask-less while requiring the unvaccinated to mask up.
The abrupt change left some local governments and organizations scrambling to react. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example, said they would keep their local mask mandates in place. In municipalities where no local mask law applies, local governments and businesses face a choice as to whether to change organization-level policies requiring masks in their own buildings.
Walz’s statewide mask order took effect on July 25, 2020, but weeks before the governor took action, former Winona Mayor Mark Peterson signed an order requiring masks in all public, indoor spaces citywide that took effect on July 10, 2020. Shortly afterward, the City Council passed an resolution affirming the mask requirement in a 6-1 vote.
Does that local rule still apply? “The city is reviewing this news, and will have updates and guidelines to announce soon as they relate to city facilities and spaces,” a Winona city official wrote last night on Facebook. “The city is also reviewing whether the end to the state's mandate will also effectively end Winona's mandate, which went into effect in July 2020 before the state's, or whether the council will be asked to consider repealing the mandate. The next regular council meeting is set for Monday, May 17.”
However, both the mayor’s original order and the City Council resolution set events that would trigger the end of the local mask requirement. One of those events was the passage of a statewide mask order. The council resolution also set September 8, 2020, as an end date, even if other triggers hadn’t been met.
The City Council resolution reads, “This resolution shall remain in effect until the earlier of the following: a. The enactment of a statewide order by Governor Walz requiring face coverings in indoor areas accessible to the public; b. The city of Winona Emergency Management Director, in consultation with Winona Health, and Winona County Public Health Services recommends this resolution is no longer necessary; c. The state's peacetime emergency declaration ends; d. The Winona City Council resolves to rescind this declaration; [or] e. September 8, 2020 at 11. 59 p.m.”
Sarvi confirmed that the city’s mask requirement effectively ended on July 25, 2020, when the governor’s order took effect. When that happened, he explained, “We said the state is finally doing what we asked them to do earlier, so we’ll just let our [mask mandate] go by the wayside.” In Winona, masks would still be required on city transit buses, the city would continue asking unvaccinated employees to wear masks, and city staff interacting with citizens would still be required to wear masks on request, Sarvi said. “But as far as the rest goes, if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear one.”
In a Facebook post last night, WAPS officials wrote, “Masks still required. The mask requirement for all students and staff remains in effect for the remainder of the school year … Although Gov. Walz announced earlier tonight the end of the state mask mandate, the requirement for all students and staff to wear masks, regardless if they are vaccinated or not, will remain in school buildings for the remainder of the school year. More to come tomorrow.”
In a letter to families, WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit noted that CDC guidance and state rules requiring masks in schools had not changed. “We are anticipating that guidance will be updated for summer school, summer camps and other school-sponsored activities later this year,” she added.
Hundreds of WAPS students have had to quarantine in recent weeks after a small number of individuals in the schools tested positive for COVID. The district’s school year ends on June 9.
“I hope people will be respectful because there will be people who will still want to wear masks; there will be businesses who will still require patrons to wear masks to enter,” Sarvi said. He added, “It’s been a tough year all around, but I think the community has done really well with getting vaccinated. There are still clinics available and we hope people will continue to do that and get vaccines. This isn’t over, but it seems to be a more manageable situation.”