Gov. Walz to sign order ending mask mandate on Friday morning

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced he will sign an order Friday morning to fully remove the statewide mask mandate after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people can go without masks indoors.

Walz made the announcement during a press conference Thursday evening alongside Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcom, who said she had "mixed feelings" about the new step. She expressed concern that so many people are not yet vaccinated in Minnesota. So far 61% of Minnesotans have received at least one dose.

"When things are no longer a rule or mandate, people think therefore they are safe," said Malcolm. "People may translate this guidance as meaning the pandemic is over."

Walz says it would have been "untenable" to keep a mask mandate in place for unvaccinated people because it would have created a vaccine passport situation.

Local governments can still maintain mask mandates

Malcolm said local governments can also choose to keep their own mask mandates in place after the statewide mandate is lifted. 

The mask mandate will still be in place in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. In statements, St. Paul Mayor Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city will be consulting with health leaders to determine when the requirement should be lifted.

Businesses express relief, excitement

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said the change requires "personal responsibility," so businesses do not have to act as enforcers for vaccinations and masks. Businesses can keep their own mask requirements. 

Business owners like Lynn Elliot expressed relief over Walz's announcement. Elliot runs Way Cool Cooking School in Eden Prairie and says her customers have struggled to hear instructions through the mask.

"I feel like it's going to make a turn in my business and I'm excited about that because I just feel like we've been hanging on for a long time," said Lynn Elliot.

Masks required in schools for rest of school year

Governor's office clarified that since the "safe learning plan" is in place through the end of the school year, masks will be required in school through the end of the school year. After that, it will be up local school districts.

Walz did not receive notice of new CDC guideline

Walz said his administration did not receive advance notice about the CDC's updated guidance, saying he was "caught a little off guard."

The CDC announcement undercuts a timeline that Walz laid out last week. In that timeline, the governor said he would lift the state's indoor mask mandate by at least July 1, or sooner if 70 percent of Minnesota adults get a vaccine. As of Thursday, 61.5 percent of Minnesotans ages 16 and older have gotten at least one dose.

Walz is ending the rest of Minnesota's restrictions on businesses, including capacity limits and physical distancing requirements, on May 28.

Walz's peacetime emergency powers still in place

While Walz will be ending the mask mandate on Friday, he said he will not be ending his peacetime emergency powers, which will keep the eviction moratorium in place. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, the state's top Republican, said Walz should immediately end his coronavirus emergency powers that he has held for 14 months.

"This (CDC announcement) is really, really good news so it begs the question, why do we need any emergency powers anymore in Minnesota?" Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters. "So it’s time for them to go. It’s time for the things that were put in place to go." 

As Gazelka spoke, a handful of Democratic senators threw their masks in the air inside the Senate chamber to celebrate the CDC's decision.