Masks now required in county buildings

Walz mandates face coverings inside public places throughout Minn.

By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County residents wanting to do business at the courthouse in Hallock will need to be prepared to wear a mask.
After Gov. Tim Walz announced last week Minnesotans must wear masks in all public indoor spaces starting Saturday, July 25, Kittson County followed suit as they have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The county commission discussed the issue at its Tuesday, July 21 meeting, deciding to continue following state and federal guidelines once the governor made his announcement.
“We want everybody to understand that these plans are put in place to protect everybody,” said Commission Chair Theresia Gillie in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s not the worst thing you can do. Just try to be reasonable and patient through all this. Find a mask that is comfortable for you and it’ll be easier to wear.”
Walz passed down Executive Order 20-81, which mandates all Minnesotans must wear face coverings in all indoor public places. While this applies to the general majority, it does exclude groups such as children age 2 and under, and people with medical conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask. This is to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has made a resurgence in the state after businesses opened up more fully earlier this summer.
Other Stay Safe Minnesota guidelines remain, such as you do not need to wear a mask while recreating, walking your pet or other activities outside, as long as you can appropriately socially distance.
However, Walz encourages everyone to carry a face covering with them at all times to be prepared if they encounter the scenario where they need it.
For Kittson County, the courthouse will remain open and offices operating as normal, but anyone wanting to do business in person must wear a face covering, which can include a mask, bandana or scarf.
In that same vein, county employees in all county buildings will also have masks to use when customers are present or when they are in the hallways, common areas, bathrooms or unable to socially distance themselves from other employees.
Staff will have the ability to temporarily remove their face coverings while at their desks in their own offices, as so many offices are large enough for them to social distance appropriately.
Emergency Manager Scot Olson has placed signs on each of the courthouse’s four entrance doors alerting customers to the situation. He also has disposable masks available should someone come unprepared or simply not have a mask that day.
Olson, Gillie, County Attorney Bob Albrecht and Sheriff Mark Wilwant held a conference call last week to determine these details. While they are confident most people will take the order seriously, they are also prepared to handle those who may oppose it.
“I know there are going to be some people who are going to be upset about wearing masks,” Wilwant said. “I had phone calls before this mandate came out of people being upset they weren’t allowed to go into a store without wearing a mask. Well, if that’s store policy, they can refuse service to anybody.”
In the case someone refuses to wear a mask inside a courthouse office, for example, that department head will first ask them to put one on. Should they refuse, that person will be asked to leave and conduct their business a different way. Should they refuse to leave, then the sheriff’s office will be contacted to mitigate the situation.
“That falls into the trespass category,” Wilwant said. “We’ll try to reason with them first, but if they’re adamant they won’t leave, then they’ll be issued a trespass ticket.”
Although they are prepared for the worst, Wilwant, Gillie and Olson are hopeful people will comply.
Businesses and cities
Cities around the county are implementing the same guidelines for their offices, including Hallock, Lancaster and Karlstad. Aimee Sugden, Hallock city administrator, said she put up signs denoting the mandatory use of masks. The city also received disposable masks this week to be available for anyone who walks into City Hall without one. She will also be distributing disposable masks to businesses in town to provide for customers who forget a mask or don’t have one.
These disposable masks are not for regular use, Sugden said. Getting a cloth mask for yourself is important. She also encourages residents to use the city drop box for bills or other correspondence, or call or email.
Lancaster and Karlstad city offices are doing the same. Lancaster Clerk Carol Johnson said she has placed signs on the doors of the city office and the community center stating masks are required to enter. She has a few disposable masks on hand. The city maintenance building is locked for now and Johnson said if someone needs to talk with her in person, she will step outside to visit. Otherwise, she encourages residents to use the dropbox, phone and email.
Karlstad Clerk Garnette Hanson said they have placed signage on the city office door and will require people to wear masks to enter. She doesn’t foresee people having an issue, but encourages people to use the drop box, phone and email as well.
Health concerns
The Minnesota Department of Health officially recorded a third COVID-19 case for Kittson County last week. Cindy Urbaniak, county public health director, said Kittson Healthcare did not perform any of the positive coronavirus tests confirmed for the county. Since the facility has been offering testing, Kittson Healthcare has conducted about 80 tests, Urbaniak said, noting that handwashing, social distancing and wearing a mask are still the public’s best defenses against the virus.
“We know the virus is spread through the air, through people coughing, talking, singing, whatever” Urbaniak said. “And we know about 40 percent of individuals that have positive COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. So, it’s one thing to have a positive case and we can educate them … but these asymptomatic positive cases is where we can’t control it.”
Urbaniak hopes people will comply with the face covering mandate, thinking of it as a way to keep their families, neighbors and friends safe. She understands many are against using masks and see it as an infringement on their rights. However, seeing it from a scientific view, Urbaniak said she supports the governor and the commissioner of health in this step to keep as many people safe as possible.
“This order is asking for compliance,” Wilwant said. “It’s not demanding it because then you start to run into constitutional issues. I can see how some people would be upset. I personally don’t like wearing a mask either, but if that’s the rule, that’s the rule.”
For businesses in the public sector, they must also comply with the governor’s order and enforce the use of face coverings inside their stores. Any business has the right to refuse service to people who don’t comply with the store’s policy.
On the flip side, Wilwant said his authority doesn’t come into play unless his office receives complaints of a business not requiring customers to use face coverings.
“What we’re being informed to do is to educate and not write tickets,” Wilwant said. “That’s the approach we’re going to use.”
He said that approach has worked throughout the pandemic, especially when the governor implemented the stay-at-home order and restricted large gatherings. Wilwant said his office received complaints and when he and his deputies approached those groups, they dispersed without problems.
“People have been really good about following these executive orders,” he said.
If residents are simply not going to wear a mask when entering the courthouse, they can still mail bills or other correspondence, as well as leave them in the dropbox at door 7, the southwest entrance. They are also still free to conduct their business over the phone or via email.
“We’re going to abide the best we can by the governor’s order,” Gillie said. “Hopefully people won’t get upset. It’s a tough thing when people don’t want to do something. But right now, we feel it’s in the best interest to follow the order.”
To learn more details about different types of face coverings, visit the department of health website at https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/prevention.html.
The governor’s executive order can also be found the above website, but also at https://www.leg.state.mn.us/archive/execorders/20-81.pdf.

CUSTOMERS CAN DROP BILLS AND CORRESPONDENCE in a dropbox located at door 7 at the Kittson County Courthouse in Hallock. Masks are now required for anyone entering the building. (Enterprise photo by Anna Jauhola)

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