An Open Letter to Duluth City Council in Support of an Emergency Mask Mandate

Dear Duluth City Councilors,

My name is Gaelynn Lea – a lifelong Duluthian, a professional musician, and a public speaker on Disability Rights. I am writing today because I strongly support the ordinance Councilor Tomanek proposed at Thursday’s agenda session for an emergency mask mandate, and I encourage all the councilors to vote for it on Monday at the next City Council Meeting. I am urging everyone I know to write to you as well so that this issue is given the attention it deserves.  

I am discouraged that Duluth City Councilors are not coming together as a unified front regarding a mask mandate. This same type of mandate was passed unanimously last year, and I just don’t understand why that support is not present now — when we really need it. Who among you voted in favor of the mask resolution in 2020, and have since decided that this issue no longer deserves your attention and support?  Indeed, the issue of a mask mandate in Duluth is as urgent and as pertinent as ever.

Last week, St. Louis County had 748 new cases, and Duluth alone accounted for 504 of them — over  67% of cases in the entire county are happening right here! Our city is essentially facing the same public health crisis that it was back in 2020, only now we’re dealing with a healthcare system that is even more maxed out than it was last winter. 

Nearly 99% of adult intensive care unit beds in the state were occupied as of Tuesday, with none available in northeast Minnesota. If nothing else, pass this mandate for the hospital staff that is daily caring for Duluthians –  after all, both hospitals have publicly supported a mask mandate. We dishonor their tireless work by dragging our feet on this issue, and we make it harder for all people to access emergency care for any reason when the hospitals are full.

The resistance to a mask mandate that I witnessed at yesterday’s agenda session makes me feel like the city that I love sees some of its citizens as disposable. I am at higher risk due to my disability and I do not feel safe going into most businesses because so few employees and customers are taking the basic precaution to wear a mask indoors. Right now, because of the community spread which we are doing nothing to stop, I am unable to see my parents or my friends indoors, I can’t perform concerts at venues (which is my main source of income as a self-employed musician), and I am seriously worried that I would not be able to get the help I need if I were to come down with any sort of illness (COVID or otherwise) because the hospitals are so full. This is the most discouraged I’ve felt since the pandemic started, and without a mask mandate, I fear things are only going to get worse. 

As an advocate in the disability community, I would urge the city council to take into account that one in four Americans have some sort of disability. Everyone is affected by the pandemic, but your inaction and lack of regard for basic human safety right now are placing a disproportionate burden on me and others who have disabilities, are immunocompromised, or have additional health issues. 

More people will die if you fail to pass a mask mandate – and for what? We could all be doing our part to protect each other, including wearing masks indoors. It’s the compassionate, loving thing to do. It’s also what the medical professionals recommend. Even if we don’t see 100% compliance with a mandate, any significant increase in masking will help take the stress off the hospitals and make the world safer for at-risk folks like me. It is simple math, not rocket science.   

I urge you to take action on Monday by voting for an emergency resolution that would require masks in public spaces. I also urge my fellow Duluthians to email with their support for a mask mandate before the City Council meeting on Monday. It’s important for City Councilors to hear our voices because they represent our community and they’ve made a commitment to put the welfare and safety of their constituents first. We can make Duluth safer for everyone with a mask mandate — including people with disabilities and other health conditions.

Gaelynn Lea

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.