ST. PAUL — It was a first day unlike any other at the Capitol as the Minnesota Legislature kicked off the 2021 session Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Of those who attended the first day of session on Capitol grounds, a handful of lawmakers opted not to wear face masks, despite clear guidance from public health professionals and legislative leaders. In the Senate, lawmakers took a moment of silence to reflect on the death of Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud) who died of COVID-19 in December.
The senators were Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks), Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids), Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), Jeff Howe (R-Rockville), Andrew Mathews (R-Princeton), Mark Koran (R-North Branch) and Dave Osmek (R-Mound).
Sen. Matt Klein (D-Mendota Heights), who is a doctor, said on the floor that it was a sign of disrespect to colleagues and legislative staffers to forgo a face mask as the pandemic continues to rage.
"Not only does it create risk for our neighbors, but it sets a bad example of leadership in an area where easy and good leadership would be so simple to do," he said. "A mask on the face, showing our constituents that this is serious."
Asked afterward for his reasons for not wearing a mask, Utke said, “The problem we have with the information surrounding the coronavirus is what is fact and what isn’t. We can all find data that supports both sides of this issue. Some will say that masks help, and others tell us how bad masks are for our health. The CDC guidelines suggest the following to control the spread of the virus: social distancing of six feet or greater, or if in a confined area with others, they suggest wearing a mask. There were 10 senators at a time in the large Senate Chambers for the swearing in. We not only had six feet between each of us, we easily had 15 to 20 feet and more.”
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