At Monday’s Alexandria City Council meeting, nine people expressed their objections to Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order requiring people to wear masks in public in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

They called the governor’s mandate an edict that infringed on their constitutional rights. They said it made them feel less free, that the government was twisting the numbers for nefarious reasons and to keep people cowed.

“It’s my body, my right, to freely breathe,” Alexandria resident Carol Klug told the council. “We’ve got to wake up.”

Kalli Kracker of Alexandria questioned how long the order would stand and said the city should be a sanctuary city, allowing people to be free and not require police to enforce the mask mandate.

Nathan Miller of Evansville, speaking through a Zoom video conference call, said he was appalled that one individual, Walz, could make decisions for everyone and that the public, like lemmings, was following him off the cliff.

Speakers were given three minutes to make comments. No one spoke in support of mandatory mask wearing.

The council scheduled the hearing two weeks ago to get input on the issue to help decide whether the city should mandate mask wearing. The city also collected more than 800 emails and comments through social media – 286 people supported a citywide mask mandate while 463 opposed it.

Before Monday’s hearing began, City Attorney Tom Jacobson said that because of Walz’s order, which took effect Saturday, July 25, the council had only two options: Do nothing and simply enforce the governor’s order in Alexandria or consider other options that would be even more protective of the public health, which was allowed in the order.

Options the council simply couldn’t consider were to ignore the governor’s order, or direct the police department to not enforce it, or take other steps to weaken it, Jacobson said.

“That’s because regardless of what the virus statistics show or do not show in Alexandria and Douglas County, and regardless of public opinion, the order very clearly says that cities may not relax or reduce the order’s requirements and may not take actions that are less protective of the public health.”

In the past month, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Douglas County has increased from 55 on June 26 to 115 on July 26.

After the public hearing, Mayor Sara Carlson asked the council their thoughts. No one spoke and the council moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Jacobson also cleared up some misconceptions about how the mask topic got on the council’s agenda two weeks ago. Although the original agenda for the July 13 regular meeting didn’t list masks, the council talked about the mask issue at a special meeting prior to the regular meeting and unanimously agreed to amend the regular meeting agenda to include a discussion of mask wearing during the “Old and Other” portion of the meeting.

After that discussion, the council unanimously agreed to seek public input on any mandatory mask wearing.

“The council has done nothing more than ask for and receive public input on this very important topic,” Jacobson said. “Tonight, the council will be following through with the commitment they made on July 13 to decide what to do in light of the overwhelming public response. It’s hard to think of a better example of how a democracy should work.”

More on Walz’s order

The executive order requires Minnesotans and others to wear a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth when in an indoor space or area of public accommodation. That means if you enter a store, restaurant, school or other building besides a private residence, you need to wear a mask or face a penalty.

Kids 5 years old and younger won't have to wear a mask and cities can put in place stricter requirements than the state if they choose.

There are exemptions for medical and mental health conditions or disabilities. Workers who can't maintain social distancing outside are also required to wear face coverings or masks.

Exceptions allow the temporary removal for playing sports or doing physical activity at an indoor gym or other venues, delivering a speech, performing or testifying or playing a musical instrument.

Eating and drinking are also exempted as appropriate reasons for removing a mask. And those who are deaf, disabled or hearing impaired or individuals communicating with people with hearing impairments, disabilities or deaf Minnesotans can also temporarily remove their face coverings.

The governor said law enforcement officers likely wouldn't ticket Minnesotans for not wearing masks in public spaces, but would remind them of the policy if they entered a store or building without one.

The executive order sets out a $100 fine for those who violate the mandate. And business owners and managers that don't abide by the mandate could face fines of up to $1,000, misdemeanor charges and jail time.

Businesses could also face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense.

Walz said law enforcement likely won't issue tickets or fines but instead will provide masks for those who don't have them.