Minneapolis

Mpls., St. Paul recommend mask wearing in indoor public spaces

2021-08-03 15:56:37 –

Minneapolis and St. Paul renewed mask mandates in city facilities on Tuesday and encouraged people in the Twin Cities, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear them indoors in response to a variant-fueled wave of COVID-19.

While Minnesota has the ninth-lowest rate of new viral infections among states, according to a weekly federal profile report released Tuesday, the severe surges elsewhere in the U.S. and the recent local uptick prompted a wave of preparations. The state reported a 4% positivity rate of diagnostic testing for the infectious disease on Tuesday — up from a low of 1.1% a month ago — and case and hospitalization rates that are back above state caution thresholds.

“This pandemic is far from over,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter in a statement. “These measures will help protect us as we continue our work to get our entire community vaccinated.”

Hennepin and Ramsey counties reinstated their mask mandates in county facilities as well on Tuesday, a day after Target, Cub and other retailers required masks for employees and encouraged them for customers in areas with high coronavirus transmission levels.

State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm on Monday said a “very opportunistic” delta variant is fueling the latest uptick — with roughly a third of eligible Minnesotans 12 and older having received no vaccine against COVID-19. Viral loads have tended to be much higher in people infected with the delta variant — even in rare breakthrough cases involving vaccinated people — making them more likely to spread the coronavirus to others.

“Heading back up in these case counts is a direction no one wanted to go,” Malcolm said.

Ramsey leaders had preliminary discussions of a vaccine mandate for workers on Tuesday, one day after the Fairview and Allina health systems announced such requirements for their workers. The University of St. Thomas also announced a vaccine requirement for students and staff before they return to campus this fall — though all of the organizations allowed some exemptions for religious, medical and other reasons.

The COVID-19 positivity rate is nowhere near the peak of 15.5% last fall, but is getting closer to the state’s caution threshold of 5%. Minnesota’s hospitalization and infection rates are both back above caution thresholds for the first time since late May.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported 1,667 more diagnosed infections, accounting for cases identified over the weekend, and another four COVID-19 deaths. The additions raise Minnesota’s pandemic totals to 614,990 known infections and 7,678 COVID-19 deaths.

The state on Tuesday also reported 248 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota, up from 90 three weeks ago.

Malcolm said studies have shown that all three COVID-19 vaccines substantially reduce the risk of severe illness and death, and she hoped fatalities would remain lower in this latest wave when compared with others as a result.

Vaccination levels remain below state targets, but the latest state data showed a gradual increase in doses administered — from 36,033 in the week beginning July 11 to 41,007 in the week beginning July 18 to 45,112 in the week beginning July 25.

The state on Tuesday reached a first-dose vaccination rate of 69% in people 16 and older. The state had initially sought to reach 70% in that population by July 1, but fell short amid slowdowns in vaccination activity in May and June. New vaccine recipients will receive $100 under a new state incentive program — with the registration site for the reward opening on Wednesday.

Staff writer Shannon Prather contributed to this report.

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