Dear Governor Walz,
My name is Gaelynn Lea and I am a lifelong Minnesotan, musician, and Disability Rights advocate. I know that you care about Minnesotans from every walk of life, which is why I am urging you to enact a statewide mandatory mask policy as soon as possible. This issue is extremely important to me, because I am high-risk from serious complications or death from COVID-19 due to my physical disability, asthma, and reduced lung capacity.
But it’s not just myself I am worried about during this pandemic. The numbers clearly show that BIPOC, disabled people, and the elderly are disproportionately killed by Coronavirus. In the year 2020, we are acutely aware that standing up and fighting for equality and justice are essential for a true democracy. Let’s be proactive to affirm and protect the lives of these high-risk populations rather than waiting for their needless deaths to spur us into action.
I was involved with the advocacy efforts that led to the City Council’s mandatory mask resolution in my hometown of Duluth. The media often painted this as an extremely divisive issue, but in fact, of the 5,000 people surveyed by the Duluth Chamber of Commerce and Greater Downtown Council, a full 66% of the greater community and 67% of the Chamber members were in favor of a mask policy to protect the vulnerable and to keep the economy running.
Since the resolution went into effect on July 13th, masks are now commonplace sights in stores, buses, and other public establishments. The people wearing them don’t have to feel like they are making a political statement when they don their masks – because masks aren’t a political issue. They are clearly a public health issue, just as smoking inside of buildings or wearing seat-belts are public health concerns.
Everyone who is able to medically tolerate a mask should be wearing them in public spaces, including stores, churches, businesses, government buildings, and common areas in apartment complexes (hallways, elevators, stairwells, and laundry rooms). Of course, whenever possible, businesses should make reasonable accommodations for those who are not able to wear a mask for legitimate medical reasons – in the true spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A few recommended alternatives include: curbside pick-up, at-home delivery, face shields or loose scarves (instead of masks), safely distanced outdoor dining, or making other agreed-upon arrangements with the establishment in advance. All of these options mitigate risk to the medically-compromised individual, other customers, and staff – while still providing necessary goods and services to those unable to medically tolerate a mask.
Research around the world is showing us that masks are the responsible and effective way forward in dealing with COVID-19. An April study published by Cornell University determined that 80 percent of the population wearing masks would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict lock-down. A June prediction by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95 percent of people wore masks in public.
As Governor, you are in a unique position to make a real and lasting change on the trajectory the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota. Please use the powers entrusted to you by the electorate for the good of the wider community. Let’s show our nation that Minnesota values the lives of all its residents — including BIPOC, disabled, and elderly people — by enacting a mandatory mask ordinance in public spaces.
Thank you for your time and your dedicated service to our wonderful state. Please do the right thing, and do it quickly… We don’t have time to waste!