Executive Council approves ending state mask mandate, some locations to keep requirement | KSTP.com

Executive Council approves ending state mask mandate, some locations to keep requirement

Updated: May 14, 2021 10:01 PM
Created: May 14, 2021 11:17 AM

Friday, Gov. Tim Walz removed the state's mask mandate. However, some places are choosing to keep the requirement.

The decision was approved during a State Executive Council meeting. In addition to approving the removal of the mask mandate, the council also approved the governor's request for a 30-day extension of his emergency powers.

The council discussed wanting to balance protecting public health with adapting to changes during the pandemic.

"We don't want a situation where a mask mandate would cause more confusion than compliance which would not lead to better health outcomes," Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha said. "It's also a good time for us to remember that now that we see the tool that a mask can be ... I hope we do see some long term changes with that, I mean, if you're going into a hospital as a visitor, why not wear a mask?"

Gov. Walz to sign executive order ending statewide mask mandate on Friday

The meeting Friday came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. 

The governor's order ending the mask mandate does not end the requirement for masks on students and teachers in schools, a move Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka opposes.

"Extremely disappointed that the governor would continue to have the regulations on our schools," Gazelka said Friday. "I realize it's near the end of the year, but let them finish the school normally."

The new guidelines are promising for those who are vaccinated in Minnesota, but the state's health department indicated this doesn't mean the pandemic is over. And some businesses signaled that they're not yet willing to abandon the policy.

Target announced it will continue to require COVID-19 safety measures, including masks, at its stores while Mall of America stopped just short of that but is "strongly encouraging" masks. The Minnesota Twins also said its policy will now strongly encourage masks instead of requiring them at Target Field.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm warned that at this point, there are not enough people vaccinated.

"This is still so much in our hands, in our individual hands, to make well-informed decisions for ourselves and our families and to really just know people are still in different risk situations," Malcolm said.

Before the guidelines were announced Thursday, Walz originally said the goal was to end the mask mandate once at least 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older had at least one dose of the vaccine or July 1, whichever came first. The state hasn't reached that benchmark yet. On Thursday, ahead of the CDC's announcement, the governor told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he expected to reach that benchmark by mid-June.

KSTP medical expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou said she was surprised by the governor's quick decision.

"I have cautious optimism, because while they are lifting the mask mandate for people who are vaccinated, I think everyone—even unvaccinated—could be hearing they don't need to wear masks anymore and that is concerning to me." 

Health officials say those who are not vaccinated still need to wear a mask. And even with the new rules, masks are required in certain places, including hospitals, homeless shelters, and on buses and planes.

The mandate is also still in place for public schools at this time.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he is keeping the indoor mask mandate. 

According to a city spokesperson, Frey will continue to meet with health experts to determine a timeline for the next steps. The spokesperson added private offices would not be impacted by the order unless they choose to implement their own requirements.

In St. Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter also renewed the city's indoor mask mandate for all licensed businesses and city-controlled buildings.

“Even as more Minnesotans are vaccinated, our work to increase vaccination rates at the local level continues,” Carter said in a statement. “Keeping this measure in place protects the public health and safety of our community as we emerge from this pandemic, and look toward the brighter days ahead.” 

Breaking with Walz, Minneapolis, St. Paul mayors keep mask mandates in place

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked with Minnesotans about the changes.

"I was really surprised too, I thought it was going to be a lot longer, even longer than July," Delores Pope, a Minneapolis resident, said. "I think they should still wear it for a lot longer."

Walz and health officials also agreed this is an opportunity for those who are fully vaccinated to start reaping the benefits. But again, they stressed there's more work to be done.

Mall of America issued the following statement:

"We are strongly encouraging all Mall of America guests to wear a face covering. At this time, we continue to require MOA team members to wear masks. Nickelodeon Universe guests will also be required to wear masks. Select tenants, restaurants and attractions may require guests to wear masks or follow other COVID-19 safety guidelines.

"We will continue evaluating the impact of this new guidance to make thoughtful decisions for the safety of our team members, guests, and tenants."

Target issued the following statement:

"Target will continue to require all of our coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, while we review updated guidance from the CDC and re-evaluate the guidance we offer our team and guests."

Meanwhile, the governor also requested another 30-day extension of his emergency powers. The five-member state Executive Council unanimously approved the request. All five state constitutional officeholders on the council are Democrats, including Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Attorney General Keith Ellison, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Secretary of State Steve Simon.

Malcolm made the case for keeping the emergency powers in place.

Malcolm argued it's needed, "To pivot quickly, to keep on testing and to evolve our vaccination strategy as a needed to try to keep the pace vaccinations up as we are in a race against the variants."

The governor also said the state would lose millions in federal aid if the powers end. Still, Gazelka is not convinced they're needed.

"I personally would like the governor to give up emergency powers with the most recent CDC announcement," Gazelka said on the Senate floor.

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