St. Louis County Recommends Masks Indoors Again, Blames Unvaccinated for COVID Spike
Meanwhile UMD is requiring masks for all indoor buildings.
DULUTH, Minn.- Masks are making a comeback, with some Northland businesses and even UMD requiring them in their buildings. Now St. Louis County Public Health leaders are recommending everyone mask up indoors vaccinated or not — pointing to those who still haven’t gotten the COVID shot for the surge in community spread.
“It’s frustrating. It’s unfortunate,” said Amy Westbrook, Public Health Director with the County.
It’s based on guidance from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health, as the county is experiencing “substantial community transmission” of 54 COVID cases in a week per 100 thousand residents — and the rate of vaccinations is simply not keeping up.
“The reason why we’re in this position where we have to go back to mask recommendations is because we are not fully, we are not vaccinated enough as a population,” said Westbrook.
“This is really being driven by individuals who are unvaccinated,” she said.
While many may be asking why they need to wear masks if they got the shot, health officials say fully vaccinated individuals can still transmit the new, highly contagious delta variant even if they don’t feel sick, and there are pockets in St. Louis County with low vaccination rates that remain concerning.
“It’s unfortunate that we have a tool in our toolbox, in our public health toolbox that could really help prevent and control this pandemic yet we’re having to go back,” said Westbrook.
According to Westbrook, if vaccinations can get back up we can avoid repeating a situation of overcrowded hospitals and a high death rate.
“Our case rates are up, we haven’t seen the hospitalizations and deaths at a time increase, not as we did last fall,” she said. “Hopefully we do have enough people vaccinated within our population that we would be able to prevent hospitalizations to rise significantly.”
Meanwhile the five schools in the University of Minnesota system are requiring masks indoors in all buildings effective Tuesday.
“So much of this pandemic has been unpredictable, so we’re taking it day by day,” said Lynne Williams, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for UMD.
This, as UMD prepares for a school year with 80 percent of classes on campus daily or in a blended format, with sports back in full swing.
“We really hope we can continue to have a semester that looks a little more like Fall of 2019 instead of Fall of 2020,” Williams said. “And this mask mandate is really just an opportunity for us to buckle down.”
In addition to masks and improvements to all the H-VAC systems, the university is urging people to get the shot as the best protection against COVID-19.
“We really encourage our students, faculty, and staff to get the vaccine if they haven’t already,” said Williams. “Just really asking every campus community member to do their part in helping to stop the spread.”
Meanwhile, health officials say with the colder months around the corner, the possibility of stronger measures we saw last year for masks and capacity limits is still open.
“That’s hard to say right now, I would say nothing is off the table,” Westbrook said. “It does, to pass a local ordinance, local public health ordinance, it’s a lengthy process.”
“We’re hoping that we don’t have to go there,” she said.
But in order to not go there Westbrook said, more need to be vaccinated now.
“So if we want to go, to move beyond our mask recommendation, everybody wants that, we really need to increase our vaccination rates,” said Westbrook.
Amy Westbrook encourages people hesitant to get the shot to talk to their doctors and consult trusted sources like the CDC and Department Of Health.
Currently 67 percent of St. Louis County residents 16 and older are vaccinated. Anyone who gets their first dose through August 15th is eligible for a $100 Visa gift card from the State Of Minnesota.