Mayor Larson Announces 30-Day Duluth Mask Mandate; Restaurant Assoc. Not Thrilled
DULUTH, Minn. — Just days after the Duluth City Council was unable to unanimously vote to pass a new city-wide mask mandate, and after councilors agreed Mayor Emily Larson should take the lead on emergency orders of that kind, Larson stepped to the podium Thursday afternoon announcing just that — a new mask mandate for the next 30 days effective Friday 5 p.m. for people age 5 and up.
Larson said she came to the decision of a mask mandate by taking into account the number of health recommendations that have been reported recently by health professionals at our hospitals in Duluth, the St. Louis County Health Department, and guidance from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
“That is how I see this mask mandate. I understand that it will bump into the choices that you would like to make with the freedoms you have, and we are still being implored upon by public health safety experts who are asking us to do this, for them and for us,” Larson said.
The CEO of Saint Luke’s, Dr. Nicholas Van Deelen, said 26 out of their 267 registered hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients. The hospital has just 26 ICU beds, and nine of them are taken up by COVID patients right now, with eight of them on ventilators as of Thursday.
On top of that, some vaccinated healthcare workers are catching COVID, which is hurting staffing numbers even more.
“As the mayor alluded to, staffing has become a crisis, at Saint Luke’s today we have 162 employees out and over half of them have covid. These are breakthrough infections, they’re keeping our staff from being able to provide the care for you that we want to,” Van Deelen said.
The mask mandate takes effect Friday, Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. and lasts for 30 days through Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.
Indoor public spaces under this mandate include all businesses, entertainment venues, recreational facilities, public transit, and more.
Meanwhile, the president of the Duluth Local Restaurant Association, Tony Bronson, is not thrilled with the new mandate.
Bronson, who is also an executive with Grandma’s Restaurant Company, said the struggles have been real for the restaurant industry through this pandemic. And even though guests can remove their masks while eating and drinking, it’s simply another obstacle nearly two years into the pandemic that isn’t helping business, and he worries what’s next.
“Here we are again, you know, so I hope that on February 12th we aren’t sitting down here again going, ‘What do you think about the 60-day extension that we’ve put in place?’ You know, that would be a bummer. But if we can do things to help mitigate or help shorten the time that were going to have to keep dealing with this, I think that were in favor of it,” Bronson said.
He also says Grandma’s Restaurant and its sister restaurants will comply with the mandate, asking guests to mask up as they enter the establishments. His staff were already wearing masks before this mandate was announced.
Another business owner in town and one of the two councilors whos decided against the mask mandate at Monday’s City Council meeting was councilor Derek Medved.
He and Roz Randorf voted against the mandate on Monday which prevented the unanimous passing of it but their reasoning for it wasn’t that they are for or against the mandate itself, it’s that they wanted to leave that power to the mayor.
Medved says he believes the mayor’s office is better equipped to implement mandates like this, and revoke them just as fast when it’s time for them to end.
“As a counselor, 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 a lot more efficiently than we ever could. We’re in this together, we’ll figure it out no matter what happens, but it comes as no surprise to me that this would be implemented,” Medved said.
He also adds that he’s not that concerned about the impact it could have on businesses since it’s only going to last for a month, but he’s curious to see how it’s going to be enforced.
Meanwhile, Councilor Roz Randorf applauded the way the mask mandate process unfolded with Mayor Larson’s lead. At Monday’s city council meeting, Randorf was very direct with her message on this topic saying the council is not set up to handle the research and time needed to declare an emergency mask mandate, and that it’s all in the hands of the mayor, her administration and all the expert contacts they have.
“I would like to thank Mayor Emily Larson, St. Louis County Health Director Amy Westbrook and the leaders from both of our health systems. Their swift, well-informed crisis response plan is exactly the type of strong leadership needed to guide us through this pandemic surge. I stand with my fellow councilors in full support,” Randorf said.
Meanwhile, St. Louis County released a statement to FOX 21 Thursday on whether it had any plans to also enforce a county wide mask mandate. Click here for that part of the story.