Red Wing police tighten enforcement of virus restrictions with possible penalties

Red Wing is sprucing up for the holidays.

Brightly lit golden decorations line the downtown streets. A giant conifer is covered in lights.

But the town is also facing tough new sanctions against those violating Gov. Tim Walz’s order banning indoor activities with people from more than one household.

“The police department became aware of two groups planning to have a social gathering,” Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman said.

A public notice released this week says violators of the order could face $1,000 in fines or 90 days in jail. The notice also encourages people to turn violators in to the police.

“I think it’s needed,” says Andrew Flattum, a Red Wing resident. “I don’t think anyone in this town takes it nearly serious enough. There’s pictures of the bars and all the people gathering in there with no masks.”

“We really want to try to educate the public on what the coronavirus is about,” Pohlman adds.

The chief says the idea isn’t meant to be punitive, and that officers will give verbal warnings first.

“Only if they were absolutely not cooperating with us would it possibly be a citation,” he said. “But we have not had anybody not cooperate.”

But not everybody likes the idea.

“Having COVID, I understand it, I get it, it is real, it is out there, it’s not make-believe,” says Lisa, now recovering after testing positive for the virus.

A Red Wing resident, she didn’t want to give out her last name.

“You want to be with your family, you want to be with your friends, but I’m not sure about turning people in,” Lisa said. “I just wish we could use common sense, try to figure out how to fight this.”

Brian Lindahl from Cannon Falls agrees.

“We all know this is a pandemic, it’s for real,” he said. “But to affect someone’s livelihood by trying to punish them with a fine, things like that I don’t agree with.”

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The governor’s order to restrict indoor gatherings stays in effect until Dec. 18. At that point, state officials will evaluate whether they need to extend it.

But while discussing the sanctions, Flattum brought out his 4-year-old son Carter from his car.

Born premature, the little boy has suffered with chronic lung disease and has had heart surgery. That worries his father.

“I think there’s going to be warnings, and I think it’s needed,” he said. “Just because we are a small town doesn’t mean our systems can’t be overloaded, our hospitals and things like that. I think if we don’t change, that will happen.”