A Follow-up Letter to Mayor Larson (and Mayors Everywhere) about COVID-19

Hello again, Mayor Larson!

Thank you for the thoughtful email response. Although I am obviously disappointed by your current position (opting to make mask-wearing optional during the COVID-19 pandemic), I am not surprised, as I know masks are not universally accepted. That is why I started my discussion with a more radical request of making masks required in public whenever people are outside. But I knew that was unlikely to be adopted by you or a good portion of Duluthians (even though I wish we would all do this).

So in truth, what I am actually hoping to accomplish is the adoption of an ordinance requiring masks inside of buildings (stores and offices and other public establishments), which is where COVID-19 most likely to spread. I figured aiming high is better than too low, because then we can discuss these alternatives as a compromise.

You wrote: Currently, I do not believe requiring them in public gets people to wear them in public. With the expressions of democracy of recent weeks, I do not see a path to mandate this basic reflection of care on a level by which people buy into it, without the backing of state and federal policy that does the same. We don’t have an enforcement mechanism besides basic human connection to motivate people to be good to one another. They have to choose it. They have to mean it. And they have to believe it.  

I don’t see the recent weeks’ demonstrations as being a good reason to not pursue this option, as Minneapolis has made masks mandatory inside of public establishments, and they are the epicenter of the protests in Minnesota. You are protecting the lives of disabled, Black, Brown and elderly Duluthians when you require masks in the places COVID-19 is most likely to spread (indoors).

You are NOT protecting us when you don’t do everything in your power, specifically as Mayor, to stop the spread of COVID-19. Also I think ordinances are exactly how you “motivate” people to be good neighbors – because it’s not about motivation at all. We have ordinances about all sorts of things unrelated to goodwill and buy-in. This is about protecting the safety and life (I would say Human Rights) of those most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their health and systematic inequities.

You wrote: I choose to support businesses that require masks. I choose to spend my money and time in places that protect the health of their staff and patrons. I know many, many others who are choosing this as well. This is my display of values without a mandate.

Although I am glad you are displaying your personal values without a mandate, I am not satisfied by this response because you have much more authority than the average citizen and are choosing not to use it at the cost of human lives. I know that sounds harsh, but it is reality. Even if more people (not all) wore masks because of an indoor mask mandate, that is better than nothing and it would reduce the spread and save lives.

You will never have 100% adherence to a law, but that does not mean we abolish all laws because human behavior is imperfect. Rather, we create laws and ordinances that uphold the basic human rights of all people. Masks are not an undue burden. Dealing with the terrifying possibility of contracting and dying of COVID-19 so that people don’t have to be bothered with masks is indeed an undue burden, one that is falling squarely on the shoulders of the marginalized and oppressed.

If you could please give me a call or respond to this request, I would really like to talk to you. I believe Duluth can do better than this.


Gaelynn Lea
Musician & Public Speaker

Author: violinscratches

Gaelynn Lea is a musician and public speaker from Duluth, MN. She is passionate about disability advocacy, personal growth, and authentic living. She was the winner of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest in March 2016.