BEMIDJI -- Out of concern for rising cases of the coronavirus recently, Ward 4 Bemidji City Council member Emelie Rivera brought forward the idea of creating a mask requirement during Monday's work session.
"We need to keep our businesses open, and there were a lot of them closing recently," Rivera said. "We need to keep our family and our neighbors safe. We have CDC guidelines and guidelines from our state that tell us that masking is the way to go."
According to its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings. The agency states that cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.
The coverings are recommended as a barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from traveling in the air, and the effort is referred to as "source control." According to the CDC, the recommendation is based on research on the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus, and evidence from clinical and laboratory studies.
On its website, the CDC cites several recent studies, including one about the transmission of infection from asymptomatic contact in Germany and another on the respiratory specimens of infected patients. Both of those studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"I've seen people not following the guidelines, and other cities have had these proclamations," Rivera said. "Businesses I've talked to have had issues where they've been put in this position of being enforcers, and it's causing a lot of strife. Businesses that require masks are being challenged by people who want to make trouble or make a point, and they're harassing the staff in some of these stores."
Mayor Rita Albrecht said she also has received many calls and emails asking for some type of direction from the city.
Ward 1 Council member Michael Meehlhause agreed with Rivera on the need for some type of rule, and said it will be important to see if Gov. Tim Walz makes any type of mandate this week.
"What I'd like to see is the governor just come out and mandate masks," Meehlhause said. "I think that's the right thing to do, but he has not made that proclamation yet. So, until then, someone needs to stand up and show leadership on this. So my request is for city staff to draft what a mask order would look like."
"The staff have gathered at least three examples of other cities that have imposed a mask order," City Attorney Alan Felix said on the matter. "What it comes down to is an amendment of the emergency proclamation that the city council agreed to at the beginning of this."
In her remarks, Ward 5 Council member Nancy Erickson inquired about making the rule effective.
"My question is, when drafting a mandated ordinance of some kind, it has to say how to enforce it," Erickson said. "It also has to include some sort of consequence for not adhering to it."
"I think we need to have the discussion if it (a governor mandate) hasn't happened by next Monday," Rivera said. "I don't know how else to keep our community safe."
A number of Minnesota cities have mandated masks in public spaces including Duluth, Rochester and others in the Twin Cities.