ST. PAUL — Leaders of Minnesota's government and business community made another pitch for compliance with the state's new face mask mandate on Wednesday, July 29, saying they need help from members of the public to quash the coronavirus pandemic.
With the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases again trending upward in the state, Gov. Tim Walz warned that Minnesota is "teetering on that edge" of another statewide lock down, though he said one is not currently being looked at. Standing outside of the Brooklyn Park shipping facility aiding in the state's mask distribution plan, Walz said research indicates that widespread mask usage can help bring the virus under control.
He and others gathered for a news conference said the choice to wear a mask is not the political or partisan statement some have come to see it as.
"If you really need to do something to express how mad you are, wear your mask and go register to get people to vote against me," Walz said.
Officials made their remarks as the state sends shipments of disposable face masks to chambers of commerce across Minnesota for further distribution. A total of 4 million are expected to be. Nearly 3 million masks are already en route, officials said, with a purchase order in place for an additional million.
Aiding in the effort is a private sector that Minneapolis Regional Chamber president and CEO Jonathan Weinhagen said is eager "to be part of the solution."
"Across this state, chambers and members of the businesses community and cities are banding together to distribute masks to make sure that our business community is prepared to keep the economy reopening," Weinhagen said.
Officials said mask usage and social distancing measures will be critical to the start of the new public school year in Minnesota, plans for which Walz is expected to announce Thursday, July 30. They stressed that the mandate isn't meant to be oppressive, with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan saying officials "don't want to talk about handing out tickets, we want to talk about handing out masks."
"This is not something that has to be punitive. This is a place and space where we all can come together as Minnesotans and simply take care of one another. I think that is the best way we can express our commitment to getting ahold of COVID-19," she said.
There is emerging evidence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that masks can reduce the spray of respiratory droplets, through which COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, is transmitted. But they are not without their skeptics: Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature, for example, questioned the need for a broad mask rule given that case rates are uniform across the state.
Public health officials and others, meanwhile, have in response tried to characterize mask usage as a common-sense practice that protects not only oneself but others. Mike Fiterman, chairman of Liberty Diversified International, the shipping company aiding in the mask distribution program, echoed those sentiments Wednesday.
He compared the mask mandate to President John F. Kennedy's famous request for Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."
"We can all be heroes. It is so simple: just wear a mask," Fiterman said.