ST. PAUL — Minnesotans who've been vaccinated against the coronavirus can stop wearing masks in most situations starting Friday, May 14, and the state's mandate requiring masks in indoor places of public accommodation is set to lift.
The Minnesota Executive Council on a unanimous vote Friday approved the end of the mask mandate almost 10 months after it took effect in the state. Gov. Tim Walz a day earlier announced that he would terminate the requirement earlier than expected after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines allowing vaccinated people to enter into most spaces without a mask.
- Minnesota's mask mandate will end Friday, Gov. Tim Walz says
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Enforcing a mandate solely for unvaccinated Minnesotans would be "untenable," Walz and state health officials said. And so despite concerns about how the move could impact COVID-19 spread in the state, they recommended that Minnesota lift the requirement altogether.
Businesses and local jurisdictions can still keep in place mask mandates of their own and customers and residents will be expected to comply. Mayors in Minneapolis and St. Paul said they would keep mandates in place while mayors in Duluth and Rochester on Friday announced plans to end their mandates. And several Minnesota-based companies said they would continue requiring masks as they reviewed the guidance.
Students would also be required to keep up mask-wearing through the end of the school year, officials said. And beginning later, local officials would determine safe learning plans for individual districts and charter schools.
The Minnesota Department of Health will continue its recommendation that Minnesotans who haven't been fully vaccinated continue wearing masks, though that guidance does not have the force of law. In its updated guidance Thursday, the CDC said that all Americans — vaccinated or not — should continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings such as airplanes, buses, jails, homeless shelters or hospitals.
"We will continue our best efforts to educate and urge unvaccinated Minnesotans to still take those precautions," Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. "We will continue to not shame people but to try our best to get the information they need to make fully-informed choices, to make it as absolutely easy as possible for them to get vaccinated so that access is not a barrier."
Walz had set a July 1 target to lift the mandate unless the state reached a threshold of 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older vaccinated sooner.
As of Friday, the Department of Health reported that 2,260,019 Minnesotans had completed a full vaccine series, representing about 50.5% of Minnesotans age 16 and older. Roughly 61% of that age group had received at least one dose. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to take full effect.
Emergency powers to continue
News of the mandate's end received mixed reviews around the state and at the Capitol, where the requirement had been hotly contested for months.
“It begs the question: Why do we need any emergency powers anymore in Minnesota?" Senate Majority Paul Gazelka told reporters at the Capitol following the CDC announcement Thursday. "It’s time for them to go, it’s time for all of the things that we’ve put in place to go … you can’t say we’re not following the science. This is absolutely where we should be going. So great news there.”
The council also voted to extend the state's peacetime emergency another 30 days, allowing the governor to continue issuing executive orders without the approval of the state Legislature. The state's emergency orders cover issues beyond the mask mandate, including allowing the state to draw down federal emergency funds, setting up vaccination and testing systems and placing a moratorium on evictions.
Malcolm said the extension was critical to allowing leaders to nimbly respond to the pandemic.
"We still are in a race against the variants so it's critical that we continue to make good progress on vaccinations," Malcolm said, "and the executive authority has been instrumental in our ability to stand up, deploy and reposition both testing and vaccinations to fill critical gaps."