In a unanimous vote, the Duluth City Council voted to approve an emergency ordinance which requires people ages 10 and older to wear masks or other face coverings when inside publicly accessible common areas of buildings.
Councilor Joel Sipress said the vote was one that has weighed most heavily on him.
"We’re about to do something that we’d never do in normal times. But I think it’s important to recognize that we’re not in normal times," Sipress said. "We’re facing the most serious situation in probably my lifetime. It’s not going to end anytime soon. We need to think about how we’re going to work together and prepare to persevere through this situation."
The mask requirement applies to all public-facing businesses, such as retail operations, but would not require private buildings that are not open to the public to comply, so long as workers there are able to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from each other.
Exemptions also will be provided for people who are unable to wear face covering because of medical conditions and for patrons of eating and drinking establishments. Schools, child care facilities, and fitness facilities already aligned with state guidance would not be impacted by the ordinance
Councilor Arik Forsman thanked his fellow council members and community members for their opinions on the issue.
"I know that some will oppose it but that doesn't change that it's the right thing to do," Forsman said.
Councilors cited the support the ordinance has received from businesses and business organizations such as the Greater Downtown Council, Duluth Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Nurses Association, Duluth Transit Authority, area unions, health care facilities and individuals. Councilors noted surveys the Chamber completed which showed 67% support from the business community and 65% from the general public. A survey from the GDC found 73% in favor of the move from its business membership.
Councilor Janet Kennedy noted that the decision was contentious in the community.
"I want to thank all the people who sent emails, including the folks who are against this. They're in the minority and as someone who has lived in the minority, I know how you're feeling," Kennedy said.
Councilor Derek Medved said he was trying to look at the decision through many lenses and that it ultimately came down to looking at the ordinance through the lens of public health.
"We can talk about business but when we don't have our health, we don't have anything," Medved said. "I think it's my duty to say, you know what, health is important. I know the controversy won't stop but I will work to be a positive voice behind my business every day."
The ordinance will go into effect immediately. The ordinance also allows for the city to issue fines for businesses that fail to comply with the mask requirement. The fine ranges from $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second and $1,000 for any additional offenses.