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Legislators Baker and Lang urge more mask-wearing in region

GOP legislators Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar and Sen. Andrew Lang of Olivia are using strong words to encourage people to wear masks to help reduce the surging number of COVID-19 cases, protect healthcare workers and to help keep local businesses open.

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Rep. Dave Baker, left, and Sen. Andrew Lang.
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WILLMAR — Rep. Dave Baker and Sen. Andrew Lang are urging more people need to wear face coverings to help reduce the growing number of COVID-19 cases and to help local businesses stay open.

The two Republican lawmakers — Baker is from Willmar and represents House District 17B and Lang is from Olivia and represents Senate District 17 — issued a statement Sunday morning calling on people to put aside political and personal beliefs and to increase efforts to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distancing.

“We understand the arguments but wearing a mask is not, we repeat is NOT bowing to a political party or governor, but it is showing a sign of respect to the business trying to keep our neighbors employed, kids staying in school and so on,” the lawmakers said in the joint statement.

Coronavirus cases are surging across west central Minnesota and the rest of the state.

Minnesota broke the state's coronavirus positive test cases record at 8,703 Saturday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The previous record was 7,200 new cases set on Thursday.

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Kandiyohi County reported 133 new cases Saturday and 88 new cases on Sunday, according to the MDH's daily report.

The two legislators reiterated the need to wear masks during separate telephone interviews Sunday.

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Rep. David Baker

“People can get really excited about their liberties,” said Baker. “I get that.”

But Baker said people need to stop “thumbing their nose” at the pandemic and should “hunker down” and wear masks.

Lang said he wants to “instill a little sanity” by encouraging people to wear masks in an attempt to reduce the current surge in COVID numbers.

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State Senator Andrew Lang

While he understands some people have strong opinions about masks, Lang said it’s “worth the effort” to wear masks if it can help keep people healthy, businesses open and keep the state from sinking further into debt.

Baker said businesses have worked hard to post signs and encourage compliance with the state mask mandate but it’s difficult for businesses — who are eager to have their paying customers to walk through their doors — to confront shoppers who are not wearing masks or are not wearing them properly over their mouth and nose.

"It’s hard to “turn away a customer who wants to give you money,” Baker said.

Besides the health risks, Baker said not wearing masks now could result in more stringent restrictions and enforcement in the future, such as fines for offenders or businesses refusing to serve unmasked customers — much like restaurants who don’t serve people who don’t wear shoes or shirts.

“It’s time to get serious about this. We can’t wait any longer,” Baker said.

Without greater compliance, he said the community spread of COVID will be “more devastating than we can imagine.”

He said people he knows who’ve had COVID have told him “it’s real and it’s horrible.”

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In the eyes of many, masks have become a political issue.

This weekend several Republican Minnesota lawmakers, including current Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, who is a former Senate Minority Leader, announced they’ve tested positive for COVID. Three DFL legislators have tested positive for COVID, but not all shared the information publically immediately either. Gov. Tim Walz chastised Republican leaders for not warning DFL members about the COVID outbreak within the Senate GOP caucus prior to the Legislature's special session last week.

President Trump has not delivered a national mask mandate and many GOP-led states in the Midwest, like South Dakota, do not have state mask mandates. North Dakota’s Republican governor just issued a mandate Friday. At the Seventh Congressional GOP election party on Nov. 3 in New London, there were very few people wearing masks during that indoor event celebrating Michelle Fischbach's win.

Baker said some government leaders have made mistakes since COVID emerged but it’s time to stop pointing fingers and time for more public officials to talk about the importance of wearing masks and following appropriate health guidelines.

Baker said he and Lang decided to speak out now in hopes that if people hear the advice from a “different messenger” it could make a difference in the fight against COVID.

Baker said if people “don’t like what we’re saying” about masks “they can get over it.”

For people who have legitimate medical reasons for not wearing a mask, Baker encouraged them to have others buy and deliver their groceries and other goods.

Both Baker and Lang urged people to be safe and smart during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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