Health experts say children should continue wearing masks as Minnesota lifts mandate

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The Minnesota Department of Health is urging state residents to continue to take the pandemic seriously as the mask mandate is lifted. Among those still vulnerable are children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for the vaccine.

“The virus is still out there in our community. As you see from our daily numbers, it is still very much a threat to those who are not vaccinated,” MDH infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said. “We owe it to all the Minnesota children under 12 and others who have not yet had the chance to get vaccinated to do the right things to prevent COVID transmission, and the best tool we have for that is to get vaccinated.”

Ehresmann acknowledged the stress some families are feeling as they weigh what activities to participate in, knowing their children could be exposed to Minnesotans who are not vaccinated.

“Colleagues at the department who have children who are under 12 have expressed their concern as well,” she said. “That ‘Man, we were feeling good about things and now do we really want to take our kids out and about?’ Those types of things.”

Ehresmann asks Minnesotans to continue to take mitigation steps, including wearing a mask if you’re not vaccinated.

“Even if you are vaccinated, if you wear a mask, that’s not the wrong thing,” she said.

M Health Fairview pediatrician Dr. Abe Jacob also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated.

“For those that are under the age of 12, help is coming we’re hoping by the fall that we’ll get the (emergency use authorization) for eligibility for younger age groups just in time for school,” he said. “But between now and then I think our goal should be to protect those who can’t protect themselves with a vaccine.”

Jacob, who is also the chief quality officer for M Health Fairview, said he’s practicing that within his own family. He said his entire family has received at least one dose of the vaccine in an effort to protect his one child who is still not eligible.

“Hopefully as the community gets more and more vaccinated, the positivity rate goes lower and lower and his risk lowers so he can play baseball, soccer, play with his friends without worrying about that,” Jacob said.

Each shot brings the state closer to herd immunity.

“That 80 to 90%, somewhere in that range, have natural immunity or vaccine-related immunity,” Jacob explained. “That’s why the state has kind of set a goal of those 70% vaccinated — the assumption is that that remaining group has naturally had the disease. We’re inching closer and closer.”

Jacob recommends children still wear their masks, which follows the MDH recommendation for those who are unvaccinated.

After Gov. Tim Walz announced the mask mandate would be lifted, M Health Fairview saw a change in demand for vaccines.

“We have seen a little increase in adult demand,” Jacob said. “I don’t know if that’s adults who are bringing their child and have decided they’re going to get vaccinated, too. It’ll be interesting to see what the numbers are next week in terms of the percentage of Minnesotans vaccinated. We’re hopeful that continues to rise from its current rate of 61% and creep up even higher.”