The Cloquet City Council approved an emergency ordinance during its meeting Tuesday, July 21, to require people to wear face masks indoors in the city limits to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The ordinance goes into effect Aug. 1 and requires people to wear masks in businesses, public facilities and other indoor venues where social distancing is difficult or impossible. The requirement to wear face coverings will end when Gov. Tim Walz ends his emergency declaration.

The ordinance exempts children under 10, people unable to wear face coverings for medical reasons and those in a private room in an apartment building or house with multiple tenants.

Mayor Roger Maki asked for the issue to be brought up at the council’s previous meeting and pointed to a letter the entire council received from Community Memorial Hospital CEO Rick Breuer supporting the move.

“The most important part for us right now tonight is that at this time mask wearing is our best prevention tool that we have against COVID-19,” Maki said.

Maki also pointed out President Donald Trump recommended wearing a mask during his briefing earlier in the day Tuesday.

Maki was joined by Councilors Warren “Bun” Carlson, Sheila Lamb, Chris Swanson and Lara Wilkinson in supporting the measure and Councilors Kerry Kolodge and Steve Langley voted against it.

Kolodge said he had received a number of comments from residents opposing the measure and asked the council to pass a resolution to “strongly encourage” the public to wear masks and businesses to require them as Walmart and the Cloquet Super One grocery store recently began doing.

The Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce sent out an email asking businesses their opinion on the issue about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but the full results will not be ready until Friday, July 24. City Administrator Tim Peterson said early results showed about a 50-50 split.

Chamber President Kelly Zink did not immediately return a request for comment.

Wilkinson said she is seeing “less and less” people wearing masks when she is out in the community and encouraging them to do so has not been working. She said the issue is also about protecting employees at local businesses.

“These people have to make a living, and they may be forced to be exposed to things that they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to if it weren’t critical to their survival,” Wilkinson said. “One of the most disappointing aspects of this whole issue to me has been to see how much of a political wedge this has driven between people.”

Penalties for not using a mask in public spaces range from small fines to criminal prosecution for trespassing, but Peterson said the Cloquet Police Department can’t be asked to respond every time someone is out without a mask.

“What this comes down to is this enforcement piece needs to be voluntarily followed by both the public and businesses,” Peterson said. “If we can't get the voluntary portion of this, the police department, honest to goodness, needs to be the last resort here. If there are 12,000 people ... in Cloquet and we only have a few officers on, it is just not feasible to be everywhere over and over and over and over again.”