WILLMAR — Gov. Tim Walz’s recent mask mandate is drawing different responses from Minnesota sheriff’s offices, with some focusing strictly on education while others have not taken possible citations or arrests off the table.
The July 22 mandate, which went into effect 11:59 p.m. Friday, requires residents to don face coverings or masks when in public. State health officials said the mandate could help quell the spread of COVID-19 after positivity rates for the illness crept up in recent weeks.
The executive order sets out a $100 fine for those who violate the mandate. And business owners and managers who don't abide by the mandate could face fines of up to $1,000, misdemeanor charges and jail time.
Businesses could also face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense.
“I want them handing out masks, not tickets,” Walz said. "Our goal is to get compliance."
Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze wrote in an email to the West Central Tribune that his office does not have the resources to hand out masks and the state hasn’t sent out any for them to hand out.
Cruze also wrote that his directive to staff is not to cite or arrest for violations.
“We are not the mask police,” wrote Cruze, adding that violations are a civil petty misdemeanor. “Frankly, we have our hands full with criminal activity and mental health-related calls so don't have the staff, time or resources to devote to civil violations.”
Cruz wrote that his office is directing people toward Minnesota state authorities with complaints or questions.
“I have told many people that although we won't cite or arrest, the state has the authority to come in and cite, arrest or shut down a business,” Cruze wrote. “So if a person violates any Governor's Order they do so at their own risk.”
Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Holien echoed Cruz's sentiments regarding enforcement and he wrote via email that he has instructed his staff not to be actively engaged in any type of enforcement action.
"If (a) complaint is directly received or immediately before us we may respond and will encourage social distancing and safety precautions," Holien wrote. "There will not be any arrest or citations during a time when concentration should be that this is a public health matter, not a criminal one."
Holien wrote that if someone calls in a mask complaint they will be directed to one of the state reporting and tip lines or websites.
The Sheriff's Office may take action regarding possible trespass complaints and mask mandates, according to Holien, who wrote that taking appropriate steps to ensure personal and family safety and health is a personal responsibility.
"If you can social distance do so and wear a mask if you cannot and feel it is necessary," Holien wrote.
Holien also cautioned against the public being confrontational with someone who is not wearing a mask, citing that not everyone needs to or can wear a mask.
"Stop being divisive and be more kind to each other," Holien wrote.
Renville County will also not be issuing citations or making arrests for violating the mask mandate, according to Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable.
“We’ll work to educate and encourage compliance with the executive orders via masks or appropriate social distancing,” Hable wrote via email.
Yellow Medicine County will address each situation differently, with citations and arrests on the table, according to Chief Deputy Wayne DeBlieck.
“We’re not going to run out there and look for (violations) and charging people because they’re not wearing a mask,” DeBlieck said, adding that the situation will be treated appropriately and if the situation warrants charges, his office will send them to the Yellow Medicine County Attorney.
Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this story.