ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz has ended the statewide mask mandate, nearly a year after it was issued to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota.
Walz announced his decision on Thursday evening, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear masks in most indoor settings.
On Friday just after 1 p.m., a spokesperson for the governor's office reported that the executive order had officially been signed, after the executive council voted unanimously to end it.
In the executive order, Walz said that people who are not vaccinated are still "strongly encouraged" to wear a mask.
"Throughout our COVID-19 response, we have followed the science and adhered to public health guidance," the order reads. "Consistent with that approach, we continue to urge individuals who have not been vaccinated to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces in accordance with CDC and MDH recommendations. Given the CDC’s new guidance, our progress on vaccine administration, and encouraging trends in our key public health risk metrics, this executive order lifts face-covering requirements in most settings."
The order also says that Minnesotans must "continue to comply" with relevant orders from the CDC, including the requirement to wear face coverings on public transportation.
Walz said Thursday that the development is "good news."
“We've been moving in (this) direction with many of our social distancing and different moves being made," he said. "Outdoors, folks can fully fill our stadiums again, and now the good news is that those that are fully vaccinated can do so without wearing masks, knowing that not only are they remaining safe, they're not putting others at risk."
Walz used the moment to urge those who are still hesitant to get their COVID-19 vaccine.
"Those of you who aren't vaccinated, now is the perfect time. Get this done," he said. "You can go without masks wherever you want to go."
During the executive council meeting Friday, Walz also acknowledged that some people will still want to wear masks.
"I think this is where we need to show understanding as Minnesotans," he said. "If people are choosing to wear masks, they wear masks."
The CDC issued the new guidance on Thursday, with the caveat that masks will still need to be worn in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
The new guidance will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues.
“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), 2,694,297 people in the state have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That's about 61.1% of Minnesota's 16 and older population. Of that group, 2,260,019 are fully vaccinated — about 51.2% of the same population. That data is the latest available, from May 12.
As for schools and athletics, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said since it's so late in the school year, that the current Safe Learning Plan guidance will stay in effect until the end of the school year. That plan requires all students to wear masks while at school.
While the announcement is a sign of positive times ahead, Malcolm said she's still concerned about the number of people who have not yet been vaccinated.
According to Malcolm, while the statewide mask mandate will be lifted, cities and businesses still have the option to enforce a mandate should they choose to do so.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the mandate will remain in effect throughout the city, but acknowledged that the end is in sight.
“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 Frey in a statement. “After such review we can reasonably project a timeline for lifting the requirement. That projection and final decision will follow the same health-based philosophy as when we first instituted the mask requirement a year ago. 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. There is good reason for hope in the Twin Cities.”
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter followed suit, saying in a Facebook post that he's still working with public health officials about when he's going to lift the mandate.
People should still pay attention to the signage on private businesses and public buildings on whether or not you need to wear a mask before entering.
"We're making great progress, we're at 61% of the 16 (and older) population, but 61% is not nearly enough to keep this virus suppressed," said Malcolm. "We do urge the people that are not vaccinated — as the CDC does — to continue using all those other precautions."
On Friday, the Minnesota Twins announced that effective immediately, fans are "strongly encouraged, but not required," to wear masks while in Target Field outdoor spaces, except when eating or drinking. Because the City of Minneapolis has not yet lifted its mask mandate, masks will still be required for guests ages 2 and over in the indoor spaces, except when eating or drinking.
Officials with the Minnesota Wild provided a statement saying that league guidelines requires fans to wear masks inside the arenas, but say they're "hopeful these guidelines will be updated in the near future."