U of M orders indoor masking amid latest COVID-19 wave

A gold statue of a gopher stands in front of doors with signs.
Signs tell students and faculty that masks are required to enter buildings at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on Aug. 3, 2020. The U is bringing back its mask mandate beginning Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Updated 3:34 p.m.

The University of Minnesota is bringing back its mask mandate after an uptick in COVID-19 cases nationwide related to the delta variant. The requirement applies to all university campuses and offices statewide, starting Tuesday.

Students, staff, faculty and visitors to campuses, offices and facilities statewide to wear facial coverings indoors, regardless of vaccination status, President Joan Gabel said Monday in a message sent to the university community.

It’s likely the U will not be the last school to ratchet up campus restrictions as the new school year nears. The University of St. Thomas on Monday said all students, faculty and staff must be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester.

Gabel said she relied on the guidance of University of Minnesota health experts in making the decision.

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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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending even vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in areas where community transmission is substantial or high.  

In Minnesota, as of Friday evening, that includes more than 30 counties — including nearly all of the Twin Cities metro area.

Minnesota counties falling under those “substantial” or “high” transmission categories are Aitkin; Anoka; Benton; Crow Wing; Dakota; Dodge; Douglas; Fillmore; Freeborn; Hennepin; Hubbard; Isanti; Kandiyohi; Lake; Lake of the Woods; Le Sueur; McLeod; Meeker; Morrison; Nobles; Ramsey; Redwood; Renville; Rice; Rock; Scott; Stearns; Swift; Traverse; Waseca, Washington; Wilkin; Winona and Wright.

Following the CDC’s updated guidance, Minnesota officials last week recommended — but are 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.

State health officials say the recommendations are intended to “protect those who cannot yet be vaccinated or who remain at higher risk because of immune-comprised status or other conditions.”