An Open Letter to Governor Tim Walz Requesting a Statewide Mandatory Mask Policy

Dear Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan,

We all know that masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and that unfortunately it has become a topic of great debate and division. With a different approach initially from the Federal government, I believe our country could have adopted masks early on as a symbol of unity and determination to fight against the spread. But unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in, and even your administration has chosen not to mandate masks at this point, even though it would save the lives of your own citizens.

That is why I am urging you, Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan, to create an statewide mandatory mask ordinance in Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s be proactive to save the lives of people who are vulnerable to Coronavirus rather than being reactive and waiting for their deaths and suffering to finally spur us into action.

It is becoming clear that not enough people are choosing to wear masks voluntarily. So even though your Administration would prefer to use education rather than enforcement, it is simply not an effective technique. Perhaps it is because the education we are putting out about Disability Rights, elderly rights and BIPOC rights is not sufficient. Perhaps it is because the everyday citizen does not value these populations. Either reason is unacceptable and we need to take additional steps to mitigate deaths from Coronavirus that are completely preventable by wearing masks.

In particular, people with developmental disabilities are dying at a higher rate of any other group in America. This may be partly due to the fact that they often have complicating health issues. This isn’t the whole story, however. I have complicating health issues as well, but I am able to remain safely isolated in my private residence, order my groceries for delivery, and make sure that I’m not exposing myself to people who may carry Coronavirus.

Unfortunately people who live in group homes or nursing homes do not have this luxury and are contracting it from the people who work in their homes to attend to their personal care needs. This means that the staff and medical professionals are bringing in Coronavirus from the general community, where it is spreading at a rapid rate in group homes and nursing homes. And you and I both know, these outbreaks in institutions are having devastating effects. The only way to reduce the spread is to cut the number of COVID-19 cases down in the general community… That is where masks come in.

Masks are not a political issue. Based on the data, they are clearly a public health issue, just as smoking inside of buildings is a public health concern. We regulate smoking as a state, and in fact we just raised the smoking age to 21 in Minnesota. So if we can take action on smoking, we can take action on masks.

For some tragic reason, this issue is not resonating with the public, who are choosing to enter buildings without face coverings. So now is the time to turn to ordinances and enforcement, as the actions of others is infringing on basic right to safety and health among disabled, elderly, and BIPOC people.

We didn’t rely on kindness or fellow feeling alone when America desegregated buildings, gave women the right to vote, made gay marriage legal, or passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (which turns 30 on July 26th). We did this through the law, because these actions upheld and furthered our Democracy. Masks are a Civil Rights issue – if our state truly cares about Civil Rights, we will pass a mask ordinance. Every day that goes by without one is a refusal to regard the lives of disabled, elderly, and BIPOC people as equal in the eyes of the law, and equally valuable as any other human being. Please do the right thing, and do it quickly.

Thank you for your time and your service, and thank you for reading this letter. I look forward to hearing from you.

Gaelynn Lea
Musician, Public Speaker & Disability Rights Advocate

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.