Governor Tim Walz could soon announce a decision on requiring masks be worn inside public spaces, though he indicated Wednesday that any such determination might not be as cut-and-dried as making it mandatory everywhere in the state.
"We are looking at this question closely, we're trying to figure out how to best make it work. One of the questions is: Do you look at it regionally where areas aren't as affected?" said Walz.
"Those are considerations we're making. I think in the very near future we'll make some determinations on where we go. In the meantime, I would just tell Minnesotans, the cheapest thing we can do and the least imposition by government into your life is just to wear a mask, wash your hands and stay home if you're sick."
COVID-19 is suspected to be everywhere in Minnesota, though only the cases involving patients with positive diagnostic tests reveal precisely where it is.
There are many counties where there are fewer than 100 confirmed cases, and one county – Lake of the Woods County at the northern tip of the state – that has yet to have a laboratory-confirmed case.
Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, applauded governors that have taken the option to require masks statewide.
“I want to really applaud the governors who’ve taken decisive action to really mandate masks, increase social distancing, close bars,” Birx said in a Bloomberg Radio interview on Tuesday.
"There’s a lot we can do as individual Americans, but there’s a lot we can do at the state and local and federal level to support that response and change the course of this pandemic."
Walz said that a recent study shows that as many as 1,700 Minnesota lives could be saved by November if 95 percent of Minnesotans conform to wearing masks in public spaces.
The IMHE coronavirus model's estimates with a universal mask policy are far lower, as it projects that approximately 100-500 lives could be saved in Minnesota by November if a mask-wearing mandate is issued. It also estimates that a mask mandate could trim the number of daily confirmed infections to approximately 50 by Nov. 1.
"We will be exploring this, we'll look at it," Walz said. "Many individual communities are making these decisions and I applaud them for moving forward. I think we're getting closer to being able to establish that."
Edina, Mankato, Rochester, St. Paul and Minneapolis are among the cities that currently require masks or face coverings in indoor public spaces.
"Minnesota is on a good path, and I say that optimistically but not naively and cautiously to all of us. We have to continue to make good decisions to stay on that path," Walz added.
Still, the governor is concerned about what he's seeing in other parts of the country, in states that have reopened more comprehensively than Minnesota, and have seen a subsequent surge in cases.
"We haven't had to roll backwards like you saw other states have had to roll backwards," he said. "With that being said, I think the reemergence of the virus across the south, the increasing numbers even in places like Iowa and Wisconsin, start to make us pause just a bit. So we continue to look at that."
The Minnesota Medical Association and a national retailer organization have both recommended the governor to announce an executive order making masks obligatory in public indoor settings.