Several Duluth businesses welcome the city's new mask requirement, but say it won't greatly impact them as they already require the use of face coverings in their buildings.
The Duluth City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Monday night that requires the use of face masks or coverings for people ages 10 years and older when inside of public-facing buildings. Several businesses that already required masks welcome the requirement, as it limits the spread of COVID-19 and makes enforcing customer mask use easier.
"Even though things are open, (COVID-19) is still a serious cause for concern," said Brittany Rapp, manager of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. "We still need to be taking the necessary precautions to protect everybody around us."
The new requirement applies to all public-facing businesses, such as retail operations. Private buildings that are not open to the public are exempt if workers can maintain at least 6 feet of distance from each other.
Exemptions also include people who can't wear face coverings because of medical conditions and for customers of eating and drinking establishments. However, when customers are entering, exiting or passing near common areas, they're required to wear masks. Schools, child care facilities and fitness facilities that already follow state guidance are not impacted by the ordinance.
The new ordinance won't change much for the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
The Canal Park chocolate shop already required all customers and employees to wear masks, as several employees have family members with conditions that increase their risk for adverse outcomes if they get the virus, Rapp said.
A handful of customers have argued about the store's mask requirement. Hopefully, with the new ordinance, more people will understand the need to wear masks in the shop, she said.
"None of us think that wearing a mask is asking too much. It's a very simple process for a few minutes of their time," Rapp said.
The new ordinance will also have a small impact on Flora North. The Lincoln Park Craft District business already requires the use of face masks or coverings for customers, said owner Ellie Just.
The flower shop established mask requirements when it reopened, hoping to keep customers and employees safe from the virus.
Most customers arrive wearing masks and don't question the requirement. People who arrive without masks are directed to a table of free masks located at the front of the store, Just said.
Just said she sees masks as a way to be "a little more selfless and less selfish."
Surveys of Duluth businesses and residents found a majority support a mask requirement.
Over 5,000 business owners and community members responded to a Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce survey. Around 67% of chamber members who responded said they supported the requirement, while around 30% opposed it and approximately 3% were undecided.
Support and opposition for the requirement was about the same in the broader community, with around 66% in support, 32% opposing and approximately 2% undecided.
The Greater Downtown Council found a similar level of support for the requirement in its survey of 152 business members. Over 73% of those who responded said they supported it, while over 23% opposed it and more than 2% were undecided.
Some respondents, however, had concerns about enforcement.
"As long as the building owners are not held accountable if there is legal action, there is no way for us to enforce this," one anonymous respondent wrote.
Influenced by science and national trends, Jason Wussow, owner of Wussow's Concert Cafe in West Duluth, has altered his opinions about mask wearing.
At the start of the pandemic, the cafe began offering curbside and drive-through services that only Wussow and his wife ran, so he had a relaxed attitude about mask use.
"We were in our same bubble (the entire time)," he said.
But when they brought staff back and started seeing the return of cafe regulars and tourists, Wussow decided to enforce a mask requirement for staff who sometimes work in close quarters. He also didn't want to increase the risk of spreading the virus to customers, even though they're not allowed in the cafe.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do," he said. "The whole thing is kind of a question for everyone. So we've been figuring this out, piece by piece, as we bumble along trying to do the right thing."
This story was updated at 3:41 p.m. July 14 with additional information about mask requirements for eating and drinking establishments. It was originally posted at 12:41 p.m. July 14.