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As Delta variant spreads, Walz discusses masking, emergencies, and back-to-school

Vaccination rates vary across the state, but many counties are under 50%.
Gov. Tim Walz

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz appeared on WCCO Radio Friday morning and urged everyone who hasn't been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible to prevent bigger issues as the Delta variant tightens its grip on the state. 

Cases have been rising in recent days, with the Minnesota Department of Health finding through genomic sequencing that 75% of cases in July are the delta variant, which is believed to be far more transmissible and capable of causing more severe illness. 

"This is going to start to hamper our economy. I'm worried that it starts to spread, people get nervous about the State Fair, they get nervous about filling up the stadiums. Those are things we worked really hard for and we're looking forward to," said Walz. "And we got some folks hanging on the edge. If you're undecided, get the dang vaccine now. That's the fix." 

Earlier this week, the health department told Bring Me The News that the "vast majority" of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota involve people who didn't get the vaccine. 

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has said. 

Vaccination rates for people ages 12 and older (kids under 12 can't get the vaccine yet) vary across the state. 

Olmsted County, home to Rochester and the Mayo Clinic, leads Minnesota with 80% of its 12-plus population receiving at least one dose of a vaccine. The majority of the seven county Twin Cities metro area has rates at or above 70%, with Anoka County the exception at 64%. 

But you don't have to go far from the Twin Cities to find lower vaccination rates. There are 11 counties with less than half the population vaccinated, and numerous others just over 50%. 

  • Clearwater County - 41%
  • Todd County - 43%
  • Pine County - 44%
  • Kanabec County - 45%
  • Mille Lacs County - 45%
  • Morrison County - 45%
  • Wadena County- 45%
  • Isanti County - 47%
  • Benton County - 48%
  • Meeker County - 48%
  • Roseau County - 49%

As the Delta variant raises concerns, Walz says there may come a time when state leaders are "strongly encouraging" masks in places with higher positivity rates.  

"I don't have that authority because the executive powers ended," Walz said when asked about a mask mandate. "It would require another declaration of emergency, which I think most of us know would be a bit controversial – maybe not anymore because people realize this delta variant is real, it's coming back." 

School is also set to return in just over a month. Masks currently are not required, though the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending everyone over the age of 2 to wear a mask in schools, regardless of vaccination status.  

"We'll follow CDC guidance," said Walz. "Our unvaccinated folks, we've got a whole bunch of kids under age 12 who can't get vaccinated if they wanted to. And we're starting to see in places like Mississippi, we've got kids in the ICU." 

The health department is currently working with the education department to formalize back-to-school COVID guidance. The state, however, cannot mandate masks in schools. Any such mandate would require federal authority or Walz again being granted emergency powers, though local school districts themselves can require masks.

"We do know that masking works. It works incredibly well. We do know that social distancing has an impact. But I will note that this delta variant is much more contagious and much more easy to spread and even those measures start to become less effective," Walz added. 

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