by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona Mayor Scott Sherman issued an order today requiring face masks in all indoor, public spaces in the city of Winona starting tonight at midnight. City staff announced the new requirement just before 5 p.m. today. The order will expire in three days unless the City Council votes to extend it.
The order applies to all businesses and institutions that serve the public. It exempts children under 2, people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing face coverings, participants in youth sports, people who are eating or drinking, and public speakers addressing an audience.
“As cases continue to rise in Winona County and surrounding counties, I have decided to issue a mask order to prevent the spread of coronavirus as schools re-open and we enter the end of summer,” Sherman said in a statement. “Masks allow our community to keep businesses open and allow our students and children to learn in a safe environment. The health and safety of all Winonans is of prime concern and masks, among other tools, help us to stay safe and healthy.”
Local COVID infections have shot up in the past month, rising from the lowest level of the entire pandemic in mid-July to one of the highest.
City Manager Steve Sarvi confirmed the mayor's order will expire in three days if the City Council does not vote to extend it. An emergency meeting of the City Council is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m.
"I’m a little unhappy this is the route that the mayor and staff decided to take,” City Council member Michelle Alexander said. She and other council members were surprised by the news tonight. There are already some tensions in the community, and by not giving more time for people to react, prepare, or give input, "I think this just upped that tension significantly.” Alexander argued the decision to wear or require masks should be left up to individuals and businesses.
"I’m extremely disappointed, and in full opposition to being the only city in the state of Minnesota, in the Midwest to have a mask mandate," Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Christie Ransom said. "This is not business friendly.” Regarding the timing of the announcement, she said, "Half of these business owners and their employees probably left for the day by the time this came out. Give them some time to properly prepare for this.”
Sherman’s decision to issue a mask mandate comes after he urged Winona County Board members to take action. County Board members Marie Kovecsi, Greg Olson, and Marcia Ward said Sherman asked them to pass a countywide mask mandate, while Sherman maintained that his request wasn’t focused on a mask mandate. The County Board voted 3-2 last night to pursue a mask mandate, but is proceeding along a slower legal route, which requires a public hearing — likely in early September — before a mandate could be enacted.
Sherman was not immediately available for further comment. City staff said the mayor would hold a press conference regarding the mask mandate tomorrow at 9 a.m., streamed on the city’s Facebook page.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.