MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On the first day that Minnesotans could go without a mask in public, Amber Raitz wasn't about to do so.
It's not that she disagrees with Gov. Tim Walz dropping the state's mask requirement in public spaces, but Raitz, 48, said Friday that she plans to keep her mask on in public mainly to make people around her less nervous.
Raitz has been vaccinated and says she's not nervous about contracting the coronavirus.
“I think from the beginning, people do what’s in the best interest for themselves and for their neighbors,” she said.
Walz's move to end the mask requirement he issued last July came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday.
Walz said he discarded the idea of requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks, saying it would be unenforceable. Raitz agreed. But she expected many people to do as she's planning — continuing to wear masks in public for a while.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at a briefing Friday that the federal guidance is “a sign of progress” in state and federal vaccinations, as well as in the effectiveness of the vaccines. She urged unvaccinated people to seek out the vaccine and to wear a mask in the meantime. The relaxing of restrictions is likely to be followed by growing case numbers, she said.
“I think that's mitigated to some degree by the fact that more activity is happening outside in the Minnesota spring and summer, and the fact that vaccination rates do continue to march steadily upward — not as quickly as we would like but still making forward progress everyday,” she said.
About 61% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 51% have been fully inoculated as of Wednesday. That's short of the previous 70% threshold Walz set for lifting his mask mandate before the change in federal guidance. Despite the new guidance, cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul decided to keep mask mandates in effect for the time being.
“Minneapolis is nearing the end of this long journey, and our city is coming alive again — so we take this precaution to continue that consistent march in the right direction," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Thursday. "There is good reason for hope in the Twin Cities.”
Liban Alishire, a co-owner of Jigjiga Event Center in south Minneapolis, said he fully supports lifting the mask mandate and all other restrictions as soon as possible. Alishire said his venue was shuttered for much of the pandemic, and when the governor started to relax restrictions, the capacity limits were confusing.
Alishire said he believes enough of the state’s population has gotten the vaccine for life to go back to how it was before the pandemic, and for him to host weddings and other gatherings with no restrictions.
Malcolm said Friday that Minnesota has seen steady reductions in case growth in recent weeks but there is “still a lot of virus circulating in our communities.”
The CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues. It also removes the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.