Gov. Tim Walz sits with a mask on at a press conference at the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday, May 23. Walz will announce a statewide order later Wednesday requiring Minnesotans to wear masks in restaurants, stores and other public indoor gathering spaces. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

Come Saturday, all of Minnesota will be subject to new rules requiring the use of facemasks. 

So what, exactly, does that mean for all of us? 

In announcing a highly anticipated executive order on Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz asserted that if 90 to 95 percent of Minnesotans followed the statewide order, we would dramatically reduce COVID-19 infection rate. 

“And this is the way,” Walz emphasized. “The cheapest, the most effective way for us to open up our businesses, for us to get our kids back in school, for us to keep our grandparents healthy and for us to get back that life that we all miss so much.” 

Walz’s order follows those in 16 Minnesota cities—including St. Paul and Minneapolis—that have passed their own facemask measures. Several Minnesota businesses have also issued similar orders, including large retailers such as Target and Best Buy, as well as public institutions like the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A data analysis from the New York Times shows that up to now, Minnesotans haven’t been great about wearing masks in public. 

More than 30 states have passed some version of a statewide masking order. 

How are we all supposed to follow this new mandate? Sahan Journal answers a few key questions below.

Where do I have to wear a facemask? 

The order applies to all indoor businesses and indoor public spaces. Private homes are exempt, except when somebody is entering the home to conduct business. In that case, the person doing business must wear a mask. 

What qualifies as a facemask? 

Acceptable facemasks include paper and cloth masks that fit over the nose and mouth. Scarves, bandanas, religious coverings and neck gaiters also apply, as long as they cover both the nose and mouth. Medical-grade masks also work, though the state discourages their use for people who don’t work in health care because of their limited supply.

How must I wear a facemask?

The executive order says facemasks should be worn over your mouth and over your nostrils. Masks that have “openings, holes or visible gaps” are not sufficient because they “allow exhaled droplets to be released into the air.” Left unsaid but still implied is that it’s not okay to wear your mask in a way that would expose your nose or mouth. 

What if I physically can’t wear a mask? 

If you have a medical, physical or mental condition that makes wearing facemasks “unreasonable,” according to the order, you don’t have to wear one. This includes medical conditions that affect breathing and “individuals who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.” People claiming they can’t wear masks don’t need to provide proof of their medical condition. The state health department acknowledges there is “no defined list of recognized medical, mental health conditions or disabilities” preventing people from wearing a mask and that “individual variation in tolerance” may exist.  

Who else doesn’t have to wear a mask?

Children ages 5 and under, and workers for whom wearing a mask would put them in danger. The order does not cite examples of such jobs other than stating they are “as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety and health standards and guidelines.” Children ages 2 and under should not wear masks because they could suffocate. 

Will I get in trouble if I don’t wear a mask?

People who violate the order may be charged with a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $100. But state officials say enforcement is not the primary goal. Children under 14 won’t be penalized, and students 14 and older enrolled in school, including post-secondary education, will not be penalized if found not wearing a mask at school. Still, students and teachers are required to wear masks at school. Walz also emphasized that state law enforcement officers will have masks to distribute to people who aren’t wearing one and don’t have one. If you are being arrested, on the other hand, and police ask you to remove your mask to identify you, you must do so.

But how do I eat at a restaurant while wearing a mask?

The mandate makes exceptions in several instances in which wearing a facemask becomes impossible, such as swimming laps at an indoor pool or eating and drinking in a cafe. In these moments, people can take off their masks temporarily. This also applies to activities like practicing or performing arts or music, teaching students in a school and speaking on a microphone at a business gathering. 

Do I have to wear a facemask while I squat 250 pounds at the gym?

If “the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering,” according to the order, you can remove it as long as you’re maintaining social distancing. You also can temporarily remove your mask if you’re at work, sitting in an enclosed area or cubicle “with walls that are higher than face level” as long as you’re social distancing. 

Do all state officials agree on this mandate?

State Sen. Paul Gazelka, the top Republican lawmaker in Minnesota, criticized the mandate as a “heavy-handed, broad approach that won’t work well for every situation.” Instead, Gazelka said in a statement that “businesses and individuals are already requiring and wearing masks in most situations.” Former Republican Congressman Jason Lewis, who is running to unseat Sen. Tina Smith, was more forceful in his opposition, calling the mandate an “assault on our liberties.”

When else might I be in the most danger if I’m not wearing a mask?

The mandate especially encourages mask-wearing at indoor and even outdoor social gatherings, while riding in cars with other people, especially in taxis and ridesharing, and while entering, leaving and moving around in an indoor space.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...