Vaccinated Minnesotans in 14 counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission should start wearing masks indoors again, under new federal guidance announced Tuesday.
As the highly contagious Delta variant drives an uptick in cases, the Centers for Disease Control reversed a decision made in mid-May that stated that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks inside. Minnesota’s mask mandate ended the day after the CDC’s initial announcement.
Now, the CDC recommends everyone in areas with “substantial or high” community spread of the virus remain masked indoors. That’s because vaccinated people can become ill with the Delta variant — although the number of so-called breakthrough cases remains very small — and spread it to others, according to the CDC.
Minnesota counties with “substantial” community spread, based on rates of test positivity or new cases, are Roseau, Traverse, Pope, Swift, Mille Lacs, Isanti, Cottonwood, Scott, Waseca and Dodge. Counties with the highest rates of spread are Lake, Lake of the Woods, Wilkin and Redwood.
More than 63% of counties nationwide are categorized as having substantial or high rates of community spread, according to the CDC. The nation’s worst outbreaks are in Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Mississippi — states that also have some of the lowest vaccination rates.
In Minnesota, 53.6% of the total population is fully vaccinated, well shy of the 70% thought to be needed for herd immunity. About 63% of people over 12 — the youngest age eligible for the vaccine — are fully vaccinated.
On Monday, Minnesota health officials urged the state’s unvaccinated residents to get the shot amid the state’s fourth wave of the pandemic. The Delta variant is causing more than 75% of the state’s cases, said Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner.
Roughly 3,880 fully vaccinated Minnesotans have tested positive for COVID-19 — fewer than 0.1% of people with the completed vaccine series. The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated, Malcolm said.
“Each time a person gets COVID, the virus has a new opportunity to evolve,” she said. “As we see with Delta, sometimes the virus does mutate in ways that could evade the effectiveness of the vaccines we have and the treatments we have.”
The CDC also recommended Tuesday that all K-12 teachers, school staff and students wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status. The Minnesota Department of Education has said it will not mandate mask-wearing in schools.