This week on the Minnesota Native News Health Report, Minnesota masks up. As the Coronavirus surges across the country, a majority of states – now including Minnesota – are requiring residents to wear masks. Even President Trump is on board.
Trump: Mr. President, thank you very much. Yesterday you said wearing a mask was an act of patriotism. If that’s the case, why don’t you do it more frequently? “Well I do actually, I carry it with me, I wore one at Walter Reed…..”
Reporter Laurie Stern has more on how the mandate works — as well as an update from Indian Health Service Area Director Daniel Frye.
“We said in March that the darker days were ahead of us and we promised a few things: that we would adjust as the science and the situation warranted us to do so.” said Walz.
In late July the science and the situation prompted Gov. Tim Wal to make the announcement.
“We’re going to announce executive order 2081, a masking mandate. Minnesotans must wear masks indoor, a masking mandate.” said Walz.
Though Minnesota has fewer cases per capita than many other states, the rate of positive tests is on the rise, especially among younger people. There have been clusters around the state associated with workplaces and businesses reopening. Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said the new mandate would slow the spread, especially in places where community transmission isn’t happening yet.
“In these towns and cities and counties across the state where folks maybe haven’t yet experienced Covid 19, that’s where this masking requirement becomes even more important. So that the spread doesn’t even begin in the first place. To prevent one or two cases from becoming dozens, and to prevent dozens from becoming deaths.” said Lt. Gov. Flanagan.
It is that serious. Community spread – including by people who don’t have any symptoms – has pushed the number of deaths statewide over 1500, and cases near 50 thousand. States that have mask mandates have seen their rates of infection go down. So masks are effective, especially when people wash their hands a lot and keep 6 feet apart. As far as enforcement, the governor says he hopes people will “get it” on their own so the government will not have to issue fines and citations. But the order does say people who don’t comply can be charged with a petty misdemeanor and fined $100. Some jurisdictions have stricter rules and penalties; those still apply.
Reservations will make their own rules, and most already have mask mandates. The director of the Bemidji-area Indian Health Service – which covers 34 reservations in five states – says Minnesota reservations are doing relatively well with fewer than 300 cases for the third week of July. Indian Health Service data is updated daily on ihs.gov/coronavirus. This is HIS Area Director Daniel Frye.
“Some of the best data is with HIS right now just because we do have that 1:1 relationship with the tribes. I’ve had a number of agencies and folks ask me for reservation-specific data but that information belongs to the tribes. That’s their data. They own it. They can share it of their own volition but I’ll just report it in aggregate and we can compare how we’re doing region to region throughout the country.” said Frye.
Director Frye says testing and contract tracing is going well with training by the Minnesota Department of Health and some reservations – like White Earth – conducting their own. But the wait time for test results is frustrating.
“The important part of the contact tracing is that you have the results as quickly as possible. With increased cases throughout the country, we’re starting to see that delay in test results coming in when you’re using a reference lab. If you get a test result seven days after and you’re positive, how difficult is it to contain the spread when it’s seven days ago and that person hasn’t been quarantining.” said Frye.
Director Frye says that at the same time as tribes are implementing their public health responses, they are also grappling with what to do about opening schools this fall.