WORTHINGTON — In the days between Gov. Tim Walz's announcement that Minnesota will require masks to be worn in public and today's start of the executive order, local businesses, civic leaders and residents have been quickly preparing for the change.

The order mandates that everyone older than age 5 wear a cloth face covering over their mouth and nose inside public properties and businesses.

"We want to do everything we can to help businesses get started with this new mandate, and we know that no business wants to turn away a paying customer because they forgot their mask at home," Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Steve Grove said in a press release. "We want to open up more of the economy and to stay safe while doing so. If followed, this masking order helps lay the groundwork for that to be possible."

Worthington police chief Troy Appel explained how enforcement will work on a local level.

"Businesses will have a responsibility to prevent and respond to any worker and/or customer non-compliance with the new face covering requirements," he said. "Businesses should handle — internally — a customer who refuses to wear a face covering in the same manner as any other difficult customer."

If a customer persists in refusing, he added, the WPD is available to assist in situations where non-compliance escalates to the level of trespassing or other crimes.

In order to help communities comply with the order, DEED is shipping more than 4 million disposable masks to Chambers of Commerce around the state, which will then distribute the masks to local businesses.

The Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a mask request form for local businesses to ask for a number of masks. The form asks for contact information, number of employees, average daily customer count and estimated number of masks needed. The Chamber will contact those who request masks sometime next week, with expected pickup dates between July 29 and 31.

This state aid will allow businesses to offer masks to customers who show up without one. However, these masks are for one-time use, so everyone should make or purchase reusable cloth masks in order to keep in compliance with the law.

A number of local businesses are making and selling cloth masks.

Julie Dykema, owner of Picket Fence on Main, began sewing masks when her business closed as required by an earlier executive order. To date, she has made 1,178 masks, and has about 150 currently in stock currently. Dykema has masks for both children and adults, and they come in a variety of patterns.

Sheri Van Der Brink of Serenity Gifts is also selling homemade face masks in all different colors and three sizes. She offers them in over-the-ears and over-the-head styles, with adjustable kids' masks. Masks are also customizable, with the option to have a logo or a monogram stitched onto the outside layer. Custom-made masks must be ordered in advance by calling Serenity Gifts at 295-9128.

Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle encourages residents to wear their masks.

"It's a great practice. It's going to help stop community spread," he said, adding that many Worthington residents of all ages have already been wearing masks consistently.

"I worry about the business owners, and I worry about the local law enforcement," Kuhle continued. "Nobody wants to cause someone else to get a $100 citation."

The good news, he said, is that Worthington's COVID-19 cases have remained fairly level for the last several weeks. In order to continue this trend and to take care of each other, he noted, it's important for everyone to wear a mask.