Five state legislators with health care backgrounds are urging the Minnesota State Fair to rethink its COVID-19 face mask recommendation and instead implement a mandate.
The two state representatives and three state senators, all with the DFL, wrote a letter to the Minnesota State Agricultural Society and State Fair Board of Managers Wednesday, hours after the fair announced it would "urge" — but not require — attendees to wear face coverings.
"The gold standard would be to require all attendees be vaccinated, but short of that, we ask that you set a clear and strong policy requiring masks for all attendees," the lawmakers' letter read.
The fair cited, in part, the logistics of a mandate at a large event with indoor and outdoor areas, calling such a policy "extremely difficult for our organization to enforce." It also repeatedly stated trust in fairgoers to "do the right thing" and follow the just-announced guidance.
But the five lawmakers (Reps. Liz Boldon of Rochester and Kelly Morrison of Deephaven; Sens. Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Center, Matt Klein of Mendota Heights and Erin Murphy of St. Paul) aren't convinced. They argue the lack of a strict COVID-19 mitigation requirement, such as a mask mandate, risks turning the State Fair into a "super-spreader event."
“The State Fair is set to open in the midst of plateauing vaccination rates and surging cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant," the letter reads, pointing out the event will draw people "from all corners of the state together to one location."
"Without mitigation strategies like masking, it will contribute to the already rapid transmission of COVID-19 to communities throughout the state," the lawmakers argue.
The school year will also start for many Minnesotans around the time of the fair, adding what the lawmakers called "undue risk for students, educators, and staff who want and need to return to the classroom."
David Boulware, a professor of medicine with the University of Minnesota's Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine, used similar language on Twitter, writing:
"I love the #Minnesota @mnstatefair. My spouse loves it. All my friends love it. Foreign Visitors love it. 2.1 million people went to the MN State Fair in 2019. This infectious disease doc will not be going in 2021. Lack of mask mandate makes this a 12 day super spreader event."
Minnesota has seen a notable uptick in infections, hospitalizations and positivity rate in recent weeks. The latter is 6.39% for the past seven days, a striking jump from the sub-1% positivity rate of the recent past. The The 125 patients in intensive care as of Aug. 17 is the highest figure in more than four months.
Federal guidance suggests everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, should wear a face covering while in a public, indoor space, if they are in a county with substantial or high COVID transmission. As of Tuesday afternoon 79 of Minnesota's counties, including Ramsey, fell into these categories.
"In Minnesota, we look out for each other, and right now, that means wearing a mask to protect our family, friends and neighbors," the lawmakers wrote. "Let us not be guided by the emotion or politics of the issue and make the right choice, and the safe choice, for all."