U of M to require masks indoors, St. Thomas mandates vaccines

The University of Minnesota sent out a letter Monday morning to all students and staff, notifying them that masks will be required indoors on all campuses. The university is citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in its latest update last week.

"Wearing a mask or facial covering indoors has been shown to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and, as we saw as a nation, virtually eliminate other airborne illnesses like the flu," University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel says in the letter. "This requirement applies to all of our campuses and offices statewide, whether a given location is in a substantial or high transmission county or not," Gabel stated in the letter, in part.

The guidance goes into effect on campus as of Tuesday. It requires all students, staff, contractors and visitors to wear masks while inside any offices and facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Gabel noted masks or facial coverings are not required outdoors.

"Honestly, I think it’s kind of a good idea," Cameron Olsen, a student, told KSTP. "I am sure a lot of college students, with being educated and being more aware about the world, they’re definitely going to take it OK more than a lot of people in the United States."

Andrew Seroff, an application developer with the college of education and human development department, says the news doesn’t come as a suprise to him.

"I wouldn’t call it a surprise, but it definitely cast out into sort of the direction the plan was going in," he said. "Like maybe we’re taking a step back. I think we’re all a little nervous, but on the other hand, I think we’re prepared. We’ve been through it now so at this point it’s not going to feel too jarring."

The university also encourages people to get vaccinated.

"Please note that vaccines are highly effective against the delta variant. We strongly encourage you to ‘Get the Vax‘ today," the letter reads.

To read the full letter, click here.

Also Monday, the University of St. Thomas reversed course on the issue of COVID vaccinations. In June they announced they would not make vaccinations mandatory. Now it will be a requirement for all students and staff returning this fall.

"The overall situation, however, is much different than a month ago with the highly contagious delta variant spreading rapidly," says an e-mail to all students and staff from the University Action and Response Team. "Infection rates in Minnesota are once again headed in the wrong direction. Given these factors, St. Thomas is requiring all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester, with opportunities to request exemptions."

Although the decision will be considered controversial by some, the university says, "These decisions are driven by our desire to provide a safe, high-quality and uninterrupted experience for our students this fall."

Also Monday, Target announced a new COVID-19 masking policy that goes into effect Tuesday.

"Effective Tuesday, based on the CDC’s updated guidance, we’ll require face coverings for our team members and strongly recommend face coverings for all guests in areas with substantial or high risk of transmission, as defined by the CDC," the company said in a statement.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said on Monday the number of counties in the "substantial or high risk of transmission" grew from 14 last week to 44 this week.

"One of the things we’ve learned over the last year and a half is that this is a very opportunistic virus," Malcolm said Monday during a briefing with reporters. "It finds our weak spots and takes advantage of them in a way we haven’t seen many viruses do in recent decades."