COVID-19 in MN: State urges masks for all inside K-12 schools as cases climb

A child wearing a face mask stands with his arms apart.
Second grader Cody Yang spreads out his arms as he practices socially distancing while standing in the hallway on Jan. 19 at Park Brook Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

3 things to know

  • Minnesota recommending indoor masking of all students, staff and visitors to K-12 school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, per CDC guidance

  • 625 newly confirmed cases reported Wednesday, more than double last Wednesday

  • Active cases top 3,000 for the first time since late May; current hospitalizations top 200

Updated 4:20 p.m.

Minnesota’s recommending — but not requiring — that all students, staff and visitors to K-12 school buildings this fall wear masks indoors to protect against COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status.

The request, which matches up with the current federal guidance, comes as the state’s summer swing in COVID-19 cases continues. While it remains a relatively mild rise compared to earlier surges, Wednesday’s numbers make it clear the disease has at least one more punch to deliver.

“The speed of case growth is truly concerning,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Wednesday as she and other officials laid out their support for the new guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Active, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota

New caseloads are trending at about 400 a day over the past seven reporting days, up dramatically from 150 two weeks ago. Active cases topped 3,000 for the first time since late May.

Hospital and intensive care needs are all heading higher again — 202 people are in hospital beds currently with COVID-19, including 56 needing intensive care — and the rate of tests coming back positive for the disease is edging back up toward the 5 percent threshold that officials find concerning.

Unvaccinated 'extremely vulnerable' to delta strain

State public health leaders say the highly contagious delta variant is now driving 75 percent of new cases. They are imploring Minnesotans eligible for a vaccine but still unvaccinated to get their shots.

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New COVID-19 cases per day in Minnesota

The state is in a much better position than in November or April thanks to vaccinations. Nearly 70 percent of state residents 16 and older have received at least one vaccination shot.

Officials hope to reach that 70-percent threshold by the end of August, although the rate of vaccination continues to sputter along.

Graph showing total COVID-19 vaccinations by age

Still, there are wide gaps in the vaccination rate among Minnesota regions.

Map of Minnesota COVID-19 eligible vaccination rate

New deaths remain relatively low. There were four newly reported deaths posted Wednesday. Still, deaths are a lagging statistic that tends to rise following a surge in cases.

New COVID-19 related deaths reported in Minnesota each day

Delta variant worry drives school masking guidance

State health officials say the recommendations — including urging everyone in K-12 schools to be masked — are intended to “protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-comprised status or other conditions.”

New information shows people infected with the delta variant can have high viral loads so that even fully vaccinated people carrying delta could spread it to others, said Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director, told reporters Wednesday.

The recommendations also urge anyone 12 and older to get vaccinated before returning to in-person school, sports and other activities, and that those not fully vaccinated should get tested regularly.

Officials stressed that these were recommendations and not mandates, and that local school leaders will make the decisions on who must be masked.

The state had required masks for the last school year, but the general statewide mandate was lifted in May. Gov. Tim Walz does not currently have the authority to order mask wearing.

The CDC said Tuesday that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in parts of the United States where the disease is surging.

Under this guidance, the counties shaded below in orange are the ones where COVID-19 is prevalent enough that they'd recommend all people — even those vaccinated — wear masks in public:

latest mask recommendations

Listen to Wednesday’s Minnesota Department of Health briefing: