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Map shows where in Minnesota people are wearing face masks – and everywhere they're not

In most of Minnesota, people are not wearing face masks in public despite the fact it can help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

In most of Minnesota, the chance that the people you encounter in public are wearing a mask is quite low compared to other areas of the country, according to data compiled by the New York Times.

The newspaper published a map that shows the odds of whether, if you encountered five people in a given area, all of them would be wearing a mask. The darker the color, the higher the percentage that the people you run into will be masked.  

The New York Times is basing its map on data from surveys conducted by a data firm between July 2-July 14 in which people were asked how often they wear a mask if they know they'll be within 6 feet of others. 

And, in the majority of Minnesota, the chance that everyone you encounter is masked in five random encounters is low, often well below 25 percent. The percent chance is lowest in the western half of the state, where populations are lower and cities haven't mandated masks. There, the percent chance everyone is masked is below 15 percent, sometimes in the single digits. 

In the eastern half of the state, the likelihood the people you encounter are masked is higher, but by no means near 100 percent. On the North Shore and in southeastern Minnesota near Rochester, the percent chance people you see will be masked is in the 30s. And in the Minneapolis area, there are pockets where the percent chance is in the 50-60s or even 70 percent, while other pockets in the Twin Cities are listed as being in the 30-40 percent range. 

Compare that to the East Coast, where the percent chance in most areas is 50s-80s or higher. 

This may not come as the surprising seeing as Minnesota hasn't passed a statewide mask mandate (more than 20 states have), despite calls from some counties, business groups and medical professionals to do so. Several cities, including Duluth, Edina, Excelsior, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, St. Paul, Rochester and Winona have or will implement mask requirements for indoor public spaces. Bloomington, St. Cloud and Wayzata are considering mask mandates.

Gov. Tim Walz has said he's still mulling the idea of requiring masks statewide. In the meantime, the governor has been encouraging Minnesotans to wear masks voluntarily. Not everyone is doing so though, saying earlier this week that they're "still having a bit of trouble with that" as wearing a mask has become a politically polarizing issue.

Polls help show mask-wearing pictures in America

That's reflected in both state and national polls, which have found Democrats are more likely to wear masks than Republicans. A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota Poll, conducted May 18-20, found 92 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans had worn a mask the previous week.

Nationally, a Gallup poll published July 13 found 44 percent of people in the U.S. "always" and 28 percent "very often" wear a mask outside their homes, while three in 10 people "sometimes," "rarely" or "never" use a mask. 

The poll, which looked at mask use by demographics, noted women, Democrats and people who live in the northeastern U.S. are most likely to always wear a mask in public. In the Midwest, 33 percent say they "always" wear a mask and 29 percent say they "very often wear one."

Twenty-four percent of Republicans "always" and 22 percent "very often" wear a mask, the poll found, while 61 percent of Democrats "always" and 33 percent "very often" wear a mask. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans say they never wear a mask and 1 percent of Democrats say they never wear one.

The poll noted since April, a growing minority of U.S. adults are deliberately avoiding using a face covering. 

Wear a mask, health officials urge

At the start of the pandemic, state and federal health officials did not encourage people to wear homemade masks, but as scientists learned more about the novel coronavirus, their position on masks changed. 

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health recommend people wear masks when they're out in public – especially inside where physical distancing can be difficult to maintain. 

The CDC this week said there is now evidence that face coverings, even homemade ones, prevent the spread of the virus, especially when used by everyone in a community.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”

The main protection people get from masking occurs when others in their communities also wear face coverings, the CDC says.

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