DULUTH, Minnesota – Just days after Duluth City Council was unable to vote unanimously to pass a new citywide mask mandate, and after councilors agreed that Mayor Emily Larson is expected to take the lead on such emergency orders, Larson took to the podium on Thursday afternoon announcing just that – a new mask mandate for the next 30 days beginning Friday 5 p.m. for people 5 years and over.
Larson said she made the decision for a mask mandate considering the number of health recommendations that have been reported recently by medical professionals at our hospitals in Duluth, the county health department of St. Louis, and advice from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
“That’s how I see this mask mandate. I understand it will come up against the choices you’d like to make with the freedoms you have, and we’re still being implored by public health security experts asking us to do it, for them and for us,” Larson said.
Saint Luke’s CEO Dr Nicholas Van Deen said 26 of their 267 registered hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients. The hospital has just 26 intensive care beds, and nine of them are currently occupied by COVID patients, eight of whom have been on ventilators since Thursday.
On top of that, some vaccinated healthcare workers are catching COVID, further hurting the workforce.
“As the mayor alluded to, staffing has become a crisis, at Saint Luke’s today we have 162 absent staff and over half of them have covid. These are breakthrough infections, they prevent our staff from providing you with the care we want,” Van Deen said.
The mask mandate takes effect on Friday, January 14 at 5 p.m. and lasts for 30 days until February 12 at 5 p.m.
Indoor public spaces covered by this mandate include all businesses, places of entertainment, recreational facilities, public transportation, etc.
Meanwhile, Duluth Local Restaurant Association president Tony Bronson isn’t thrilled with the new term.
Bronson, who is also an executive at Grandma’s Restaurant Company, said the struggles have been real for the restaurant industry during this pandemic. And even if customers can remove their masks while eating and drinking, it’s just another hurdle nearly two years into the pandemic that isn’t helping businesses, and he worries what’s next.
“We’re at it again, you know, so hopefully on February 12 we don’t sit here again and say, ‘What do you think about the 60-day extension that we’ve put in place? You know, that would be a disappointment. But if we can do things to help mitigate or shorten the time that was going to have to continue to process this, I think that was in favor,” Bronson said.
It also says Grandma’s Restaurant and its restaurant partners will comply with the mandate, asking customers to mask up when entering establishments. Its staff were already wearing masks before the announcement of this mandate.
Another business owner in the city, and one of two councilors who spoke out against the mask mandate at Monday’s city council meeting, was Councilman Derek Medved.
He and Roz Randorf voted against the mandate on Monday, which prevented it from passing unanimously, but their reasoning was not that they were for or against the mandate itself, it was that they wanted to let this power to the mayor.
Medved says he thinks the mayor’s office is better equipped to implement warrants like this and revoke them just as quickly when it’s time for them to end.
“As an adviser, it is very important to me for public health and safety, but I think coming from the administration they can track it and manage it much more effectively than we ever could. We’re in this together, we’ll find out no matter what, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s being implemented,” Medved said.
He also adds that he’s not that concerned about the impact it might have on business as it will only last a month, but he’s curious to see how it’s going to be enforced.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Roz Randorf applauded how the mask mandate process has unfolded under Mayor Larson’s leadership. At Monday’s city council meeting, Randorf was very blunt with his message on this topic saying that the council is not set up to handle the search and time required to declare an emergency mask mandate, and that everything is in the hands of the mayor, his administration and all the expert contacts they have.
“I want to thank Mayor Emily Larson, St. Louis County Chief Health Officer Amy Westbrook, and the leaders of our two health systems. Their quick and well-informed crisis response plan is exactly the kind of strong leadership needed to guide us through this pandemic surge. I fully support my fellow advisers,” Randorf said.
Meanwhile, St. Louis County released a statement to FOX 21 on Thursday indicating whether it is also considering implementing a county-wide mask mandate. Click here for that part of the story.