Scott Sherman mayor w/ mask

Photo by Chris Rogers

Winona Mayor Scott Sherman said of a local mask mandate, "Every day we’re looking at it more seriously."

by CHRIS ROGERS

 

Following a sharp rise in local COVID infections, Winona Mayor Scott Sherman said Thursday that he is considering a citywide mask mandate to prevent the spread of the virus. In an interview with the Post, Sherman clarified comments he made to Winona Radio about “shutting businesses and other things down,” saying the city was not considering any restrictions beyond masking. Meanwhile, city staff adopted a mask requirement in city-owned buildings on Thursday.

Every day we’re looking at it more seriously,” Sherman said of requiring masks citywide. “I would say one of the biggest concerns we have is the influx of students this week and K-12 [schools] starting, as well. Those are worrisome to me. The numbers we are at right now are similar to, literally, August 31 last year.” Last year, there was a surge in COVID cases at the end of August, with returning college students comprising 80 percent of the initial spike in infections.

This summer, even before the start of colleges and schools, local COVID infections have doubled for the last three weeks in a row. Winona County is averaging 15 cases a day, one of the highest levels of the pandemic, and the county reported three local residents were hospitalized for COVID last week. At the height of last winter’s peak, the county averaged 57 cases day. “Everything is pointing to, it’s going in the wrong direction right now,” Sherman said.

The mayor urged Winonans to get vaccinated. “If you’ve been on the fence, now is the time to do it,” Sherman said. Assistant Fire Chief Joel Corcoran echoed, “Getting vaccinated is our number one priority, and masking to help reduce the spread, especially to the vulnerable population, is second.”

Asked why the city was considering action but had not taken it yet, Sherman responded, “The reason we haven’t gotten there yet is there are other things that are happening that we can’t necessarily talk about publicly yet … By letting the public know certain things, things can fall apart that are being worked on.” He declined to elaborate but added, “Those people who are in favor of government stepping in, I don’t want them to think that we aren’t in those processes.”

Sherman explained that the city was both sorting through logistical and legal issues regarding how a mask requirement could be enacted and keeping an eye on infection rates to see if the trend will continue to worsen. “If we see some numbers turn around for the better, it might be all moot,” he stated.

 

Sherman: ‘I said it; I’ve got to live with it’

In an interview Thursday with Winona Radio, Sherman told Winonans, “Start taking these precautions immediately so we don’t get into a spot where we have to do a mask mandate. Potentially further down the road, based on the numbers we’re looking at right now, I hate to say it but we might have to start looking at shutting businesses and other things down at some point if things don’t turn around pretty quick.” 

Asked about the statement, Sherman told the Post, “Instead of meaning ‘we,’ the city, I would say the government is going to have to be looking at that stuff,” explaining that he thought other governments, such as the state, might have to take such measures. Sherman said the city is not considering shutting any businesses down, and asked if the city would have the power to do so, he responded, “I don’t know even.” He added, “Right now we’re looking at a mask mandate; we’re not looking at restricting capacity or hours or anything like that.”

Shutting down businesses would be excessive and would be catastrophic to our economy,” Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Christie Ransom said. Ransom said she had heard from several business owners who were worried and upset after hearing the mayor’s comments. “He should know that he doesn’t speak for just himself,” she added.

Sherman said of his original wording, “That quote doesn’t look that good, but I’ve been burnt before. I said it; I’ve got to live with it.”

Chris@winonapost.com