ST. PAUL — The state requirement for Minnesotans to wear face masks in all indoor businesses is now slated to end Friday, May 14.
Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign an executive order nullifying the mask mandate, which was instituted in July in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. Appearing alongside other state officials at a news conference late Thursday, May 13, Walz characterized the move as another step toward normalcy but noted that local authorities and businesses will retain the ability to require masks and institute other safety measures.
"There will be decisions that can be made by local businesses, by local jurisdictions and certainly in the health care industry, as is relatively normal," he said. "People will continue to mask in some of those settings."
The announcement came hours after federal health authorities said citizens who are fully vaccinated against the disease can go without masks in most settings, and represented a sharp break with the timeline for lifting the Minnesota mandate that Walz had earlier laid out.
The state's masking requirement was originally scheduled to sunset once 70% of residents older than 16 received at least one dose of the vaccine, or by July 1 at the latest. Approximately 61% of Minnesotans fitting that description have been partially vaccinated.
Fifty percent of eligible Minnesotans have been fully vaccinated, meanwhile, and the same can be said of approximately 35% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. In her remarks Thursday, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm expressed concern over the CDC's new guidance and stressed that it applies only to those who have been fully vaccinated.
That guidance, which states that fully vaccinated people can "resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing," still calls for adherence to state, tribal and local guidelines that require masks and other coronavirus pandemic precautions, and to the guidelines of local businesses and workplaces.
"People who are not fully vaccinated still are at risk. And my ambivalence about this, or my concern about this, is that there's still an awful lot of people in Minnesota who are not vaccinated," she said. "Sixty-one percent is not nearly enough to keep this virus suppressed."
Also of concern are Minnesota's most recent rates of COVID-19 case growth and disease test positivity. The state health department considers both to represent "high risk," though they have decreased from a recent peak in April.
Minnesota's rate of COVID-19 transmission is also the fourth highest in the nation, a fact Walz cited in encouraging residents to get vaccinated. The Minnesota Executive Council will have to approve the order rescinding the mandate before it can take effect, and Malcolm said it will not affect the safety guidelines in place for Minnesota schools.
Malcolm cautioned that the order does not mean the pandemic is over, and said it's on Minnesotans "to make well-informed decisions for ourselves and our families, and to really just know that people are in different risk situations."
"We don’t have nearly enough people vaccinated to keep this virus suppressed. It will come back if we don’t continue to build up more vaccination," she said.
Minnesota's largest city will keep its current mask restrictions in place, according to a press release issued late Thursday night.
“The Minneapolis indoor mask requirement will stay in place while we review the data, consult our health experts, and analyze the unique circumstances and vaccination rates for our communities across our city,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “After such review we can reasonably project a timeline for lifting the requirement... Minneapolis is nearing the end of this long journey, and our city is coming alive again — so we take this precaution to continue that consistent march in the right direction.”