WOODBURY, Minn. -- Frank Donohoe says he’s been doing his best to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, even though he wishes he didn’t have to.
“My mask looks like a jock strap,” Donohoe said. “It’s very embarrassing to wear. It’s humiliating.”
What bothers Donohoe even more are all of the people ignoring the rules.
“People won’t even so much as wear a paper mask.”
The 60-year-old Woodbury resident says he avoids bars and restaurants, but there are some places he has to go — like the muffler repair shop he recently visited. He says none of the employees were masked. He’s run into similar situations at other businesses — even a pharmacy.
“The manager of the pharmacy was wearing a neck gaiter around his chin, you know stuff like that,” Donohoe said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Minnesota's penalty for refusing to wear a face covering, when required, is a $100 fine. Businesses face much steeper penalties for skirting COVID-19 safety measures. There have been a few high-profile interventions; the shutdown of a rodeo in northern Minnesota in September and, more recently, the court-ordered shutdown of a fitness center outside of Rochester that defied the latest executive order to close.
Two months ago, MPR News requested detailed information from the Minnesota departments of Health, Public Safety and Labor and Industry about non-compliance complaints and actions taken. There has, so far, been no response.
Gov. Tim Walz, who’s been making the mandate decisions, is also frustrated with non-compliance but is not intending to clamp down.
“My job certainly, as I said early on, wasn’t to arrest people and issue fines,” the governor said.
Walz says he’s just trying to keep people safe.
“This one has been a tricky one. I’ve got to be very honest with you,” Walz said at a recent briefing. “Because you got folks saying, ‘Well what about these folks—nothing happens to them, they don’t do anything”
Some Walz critics, angry about COVID-19 restrictions, regularly gather outside the governor’s residence to openly defy his orders.
The Minnesota Medical Association has pushed for tighter regulations throughout the pandemic, saying health care providers in Minnesota could become overwhelmed.
The association president Dr. Marilyn Peitso, a St. Cloud physician, said those who think they can disobey COVID safety measures without consequence are wrong.
“It’s a false choice to say that if I choose not to wear a mask I can get away with that because – no,” Peitso said. “It’s affecting us as a state and it’s affecting our economy. It has affected the families of over 3,500 people that have died in Minnesota.”
Kyle Payne, who lives in Minneapolis, is also frustrated with others who choose not to follow public health protocols. He agrees with the governor that it’s not time to start fining people. He has another idea.
“You know, I think the penalty should be you have to watch a video about a person being put on sedation or you have to do community service at a food pantry that’s trying to feed the people,” Payne said.