ST PAUL, Minn. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
According to recent data, counties in the Twin Cities metro area show a low-to-medium risk level, while some counties in central and northern Minnesota reflect high risk.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC's risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That's the situation in about 37% of U.S. counties, where about 28% of Americans reside.
The new recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations. The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.
While numbers are trending downward, health officials are still cautioning people to remain vigilant. On Friday, state health officials reported 15 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing Minnesota's cumulative death total to 12,081 since the pandemic began. New data shows the occupancy rate for pediatric intensive care beds in Minnesota is at 92.5% and 90.7% for non-ICU pediatric beds.
On Friday, 961 new COVID-19 cases in the state were announced and although MDH case numbers are not definitive, this is the first time reported new cases have dipped below the 1,000 mark since Aug. 5, 2021, when 878 were reported.
State health officials say the number of new cases does not accurately paint the full picture of the statistics, because at-home tests are not accounted for in MDH's data.
As you can see from the chart below reported COVID-19 cases have dropped sharply recently, according to data from MDH.
The latest numbers and CDC recommendations have spurred optimism for some business owners, like Erica Christ, whose family operates the German restaurant Black Forest Inn in South Minneapolis.
"Our business has been steadily getting better. Slow but steady, as various people reach their risk tolerance threshold," Christ said. "We're just hoping that this is finally on its way to subsiding enough that people feel like they can go out and be around other people. That's what a restaurant is."
Some other businesses, meanwhile, will be keeping mask mandates in place.
Allison Bross-White, owner of "b. Resale" on Nicollet, said her shop has required masks throughout the pandemic.
"We haven't had a case of COVID in our store and we'd like to keep it that way. So, we're going to keep the masks on, as of now and indefinitely," Bross-White said. "I think for me, when my crew feels safe working here, then I'll let it go."