Aug. 4—In a dramatic about-face, the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced on Tuesday new mask mandates for city employees, on top of masking recommendations for businesses. The two said the public health precautions, dropped by both cities in early June, have now been reinstated in response to rising numbers of COVID infections locally and nationwide.
Beginning Wednesday, any visitor over age 2 must don a mask before entering the city hall or another city-owned building in either municipality.
Businesses are being urged — but not required — to adopt universal masking requirements, meaning masks for all customers in indoor areas, regardless of vaccination status. Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul and Minneapolis' Mayor Jacob Frey said restaurants and bars should prepare for the likelihood that an employee will get sick and take steps to keep customers and fellow employees from getting the virus.
Hennepin and Ramsey county officials also mandated Tuesday that all visitors and employees to county facilities must wear coverings over their nose and mouth. The University of Minnesota, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and a growing number of private employers have asked students or employees to do the same.
The mayors said they were following recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is asking that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial rates of COVID-19 transmission.
As of Friday, the seven-day case rate in Minneapolis landed in the "substantial" category, with 78.6 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Transmission rates in Ramsey County reached the "substantial" mark last Thursday, as did most of the metro between Goodhue and Isanti counties. Masks are now recommended in at least half of all Minnesota counties.
Public health officials have called COVID's delta variant the dominant new form of coronavirus, more transmissible than its predecessors and responsible for a growing number of "breakthrough" cases among the vaccinated. COVID symptoms among vaccinated individuals appear to be less serious, on the whole, but the virus is still transmissible to others.
In other words, even vaccinated people could pose a danger to the unvaccinated, including to children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
The delta variant could pose a special challenge for communities of color. The CDC has reported that nationally, COVID death rates among Blacks, Native Americans and Latinos are at least twice as high as the white population, and hospitalization rates are roughly three times as high.
In addition to new masking guidance, Carter and Frey urged residents to get vaccine shots, which are both free and now widely accessible at community clinics and other sites. Pharmacies such as CVS and Walmart have seen an uptick in demand in some areas, but lines are still generally short. The state of Minnesota offers links to vaccination sites at tinyurl.com/ete24scs.
"This pandemic is far from over," said Carter, in a written statement. "These measures will help protect us as we continue our work to get our entire community vaccinated."
Neither mayor has mandated that city employees be vaccinated, but the mayors said in a statement that they are exploring that possibility.