Beginning July 25, 2020, all Minnesotans are to wear facemasks while in public places, businesses, and working outdoors where social distancing cannot be maintained. These rules apply unless the person is alone or an exception applies. This is directed by Executive Order 20-81, being called the Mask Up Minnesota order, signed on July 22, 2020 by Governor Walz. The Order will remain effective until it is revoked by the Governor or the state public health emergency expires.
General Rule: The Executive Order directs that a mask must always be worn unless a person falls under an exemption. Exemptions likely to apply for townships include:
- Working outdoors: If a person is working outdoors, a mask is not required if social distancing can be maintained.
- Open meetings: A mask may be temporarily removed while speaking at an open meeting. However, when not speaking or presenting, the mask must be worn.
- Working in-person, at the town hall: Masks are not required if working at the town hall, you have an office or a cubicle and able to maintain social distancing. However, once you leave your office/cubicle, you would have to put on your mask.
- Children: Children under 5 years of age are not required to wear masks.
- In your own home: Masks are not required.
- Communication with those with Disabilities: if needed or helpful to a person with a communication disability, a person may remove his or her mask to communicate with that person.
Types of Facemasks: Facemasks can be paper, whether disposable or reusable, or cloth. Neck gaiters, scarfs, bandanas, or religious-related face coverings are acceptable. N-95 grade masks are not required and generally it is recommended that N-95 compliant masks should be reserved for use by hospitals, first responders, and others working in high-risk environments.
Penalty: If an individual breaks Mask Up Minnesota, they can be liable for a petty misdemeanor, which is a $100 fine. If a business owner, manager, or supervisor violated the Order, the person or persons could be liable for the full force of a misdemeanor, which includes a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. The Executive Order also allows the Attorney General to pursue a $25,000 civil. For local governments, this order may consider town supervisors as business owners, managers, or supervisors, so a supervisor should follow these guidelines.
Some Questions Likely to Arise from this Order:
Can Towns hold in-person meetings? Yes, townships may hold in-person meetings, but given the difficulties of holding in-person meetings wearing masks and of enforcing the mask mandate, MAT strongly recommends town adopt or return to telephonic meetings.
Can a town hold an outdoor meeting to avoid wearing masks? Possibly, if those at the meeting could maintain minimum social distancing among all those present. However, the more practical problem is in ensuring all people attending the meeting can hear and be heard over a large and open area. Likewise, masks will almost certainly be needed for any part of a meeting in which a person needs to interact with another person at the meeting, such as while getting the public packet of materials.
Are towns exempt from the mask mandate? No, there is no municipal or township exception to this Order so all township officers, employees, and members of the public must abide by the order during any township business or use of town property. There is only a limited exception for public meetings, and that exception allows a person to remove a mask only while speaking to the board.
What is MAT’s recommendation right now? Given these restrictions and the likely difficulties of enforcing mask requirements at any public place, MAT strongly recommends all townships hold telephonic meetings. Town officers and employees may continue to perform their duties, subject to the requirements they wear masks and maintain social distance. Remember towns that need help starting or holding telephone meetings may contact MAT for assistance and that the cost of such service may be reimbursable by CARES Act funds.
How should the town respond to individuals who refuse to wear a mask? Since the township board controls both its property and the town’s employees, the board has a duty to enforce this order on town property and among the town’s employees and officers. Employees should be directed that a mask is required, subject to the few exceptions described here and in the Executive Order. The board should require that all town officers abide by the order or refrain from entering town property. If town property or buildings are to remain open to the public, the board must inform the public of the mask rule and direct that officers and employees ask those entering the building to wear a mask or leave the building. Unfortunately, towns may need the help of law enforcement if a person refuses to wear a mask and refuses to leave town property after being directed to leave.
Does the town need to enforce the mask mandate on business and people in the township? No, and the township should not be acting as an enforcement agency unless the town has a law enforcement department. Towns should report concerns about individuals or businesses to the county sheriff for enforcement.
Are facemasks effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19? Public health organizations, (including Mn Dept. of Health, World Health Org., and Centers for Disease Control), as well as federal agencies (Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), and the US Dept. of Defense) have recommend or required wearing of masks as an effective means of reducing the spread of disease for several months. As MAT is not a medical provider or have any expertise in this area, we take the findings and recommendations of those organizations who are experts in this field. Regardless of any individual’s beliefs on the effectiveness of masks, the Executive Order requires the use of masks and cites the findings of health professionals in support of its requirements.
Can the town provide masks to the public? Yes, the town can provide masks to those entering town buildings as a courtesy and attempt to allow those without a mask to remain in the building to conduct their business.
Should the town provide masks to employees and officers? Yes, the town should provide masks or any other necessary personal protective equipment to employees and officers who will be entering town property with any expectation that they will interact with other people. This should include election judges for the upcoming statewide primary election and general election.
Can the town use CARES Act funds for expenses related to carrying out this mask mandate? Yes, many expenses towns encounter as part of their COVID-19 response are likely eligible for reimbursement by the Federal CARES Act funding. For more information on the CARES Act, please refer to MAT’s resources on that topic.