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COVID restrictions ease in Twin Cities as infections trend down

Minneapolis and St. Paul have removed their proof of COVID vaccination or negative test mandates for restaurants, but citywide mask ordinances remain in place.

MINNEAPOLIS — At least eight states have announced plans to end indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements as COVID cases continue to drop.

"We're observing omicron cases decline at a pretty substantial rate in Minnesota," said Dr. Cameron Berg, an emergency physician at North Memorial Health.  

According to the latest data from the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota's positivity rate was at 16.5% as of Tuesday, Feb. 8, and down 8% from this same time three weeks ago. 

The newest data is leading many cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul to remove their proof of vaccination or negative test mandate for bars and restaurants. 

But citywide mask requirements still remain.

Doctors say, people should still be masking up. 

"Yes, people absolutely should still be masking when they're inside," said Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn, a pediatrician and internal medicine doctor with Hennepin Health. She went on to say, "Even though we're past the peak of the omicron wave, we're still seeing really high rates of infection."

A positivity rate over 10% is deemed high risk, but both local data tracking experts and doctors believe Minnesota will drop near or below the 5% threshold sooner, rather than later.

"If not this weekend, very likely sometime next week," said Dr. Berg. 

"Once we get below 5%, which we will, we know it's a lot safer," said Dr. Lichtsinn. 

But a lower positivity rate doesn't necessarily mean its time to take our foot off the COVID protocol pedal just yet, especially if people stop getting tested.

"When the public gets the message that, you know, things are okay; COVID is going down, then minor symptoms often times don't prompt people to pursue testing, which remember, that changes our ability to predict things," said Dr. Berg. 

With numbers down and restrictions easing, Lichtsinn says we still have a responsibility to take precautions.

"Even though its exhausting to still be living in this world, it's the world we live in, and the safest thing to do is take all reasonable precautions," encouraged Dr. Lichtsinn. 

Leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul say they are keeping an eye on data from both local and state health agencies to determine when to lift the indoor mask mandate.

In a statement from the City of Minneapolis, a spokesperson said: "As for lifting the mask mandate, the City will be looking for trends in the data that indicate a stabilization in COVID transmission -- hospital beds in use, case rates, deaths, positivity rate, vaccination rate, hospital capacity, vaccination breakthrough data, etc."

The St. Paul Mayor's Office said: "While there is no single factor that will determine when to lift the mask requirements that remain in place, we continue to work closely with our partners at Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health to monitor the promising downward trends."

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