Less than 48 hours before the return of the Minnesota State Fair, health officials are urging Minnesotans to wear face masks while in large crowds – even outdoors – in an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID delta variant.
While the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is much lower when outdoors compared to inside, the return of outdoor festivals that puts large throngs shoulder to shoulder recently prompted the CDC to issue guidance for people to wear masks outdoors if they can't put six feet of distance between themselves and others.
Minnesota is currently approaching the peak of another virus wave, and so the risk of contracting the virus is higher than it was earlier in the summer. On Tuesday, Minnesota's Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Director of Infectious Diseases Kris Ehresmann advised Minnesotans to take precautions if they find themselves in a crowd.
"The circumstances in the settings that we know have always been higher risk continue to be so. Are there things we thought were safe that are looking less safe with delta? The crowded outdoor spaces, that is definitely the case," said Malcolm.
"We are seeing transmission in crowded outdoor settings," Ehresmann said. "With delta, when have large groups of people together, that can still be problematic. That's why CDC is responding to what we learn about this variant and recommending masking in crowded outdoor settings. That's because delta is different and we need to adapt to that."
Evidence in Minnesota of outdoor transmission at well-attended events has begun to emerge, albeit on a relatively small scale for now.
Ehresmann said that so far, MDH has traced nine cases of COVID-19 back to WE Fest, the outdoor country music festival in Detroit Lakes, three weeks ago, one of which resulted in the hospitalization of a 38-year-old.
There have also been 13 cases in Minnesota so far linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota two weeks ago – where there is a mixture of outdoor and indoor events.
However, South Dakota has seen COVID-19 cases triple in the two weeks since Sturgis, and there have been outbreaks at outdoor events in other parts of the country, with more than 60 cases linked to a music festival in Oregon in early July.
The Minnesota State Fair also has a mixture of outdoor and indoor activities, but those attending between Thursday and Labor Day will not be required to wear masks anywhere on the State Fairgrounds – even indoors – with State Fair officials instead urging people to "do what's right" and wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
The State Fair also hasn't followed the likes of the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis and SummerFest in Milwaukee in requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry.
While there are places at the State Fair where you can keep plenty of distance from others, there likes of Judson and Carnes Avenue and the lower end of Underwood Street are known to be crowded at busy times, while indoor spaces like the Food and Dairy Buildings can get cramped.