St. Louis County health officials recommend that residents regardless of vaccination status should wear masks in indoor public places due to “substantial transmission of COVID-19,” according to a news release issued Monday afternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control defines “substantial transmission” as 50 or more cases in a week per 100,000 residents. As of Monday afternoon, county officials reported 54.4 cases per 100,000 residents.

"We are as frustrated as anyone, but more than that, we are concerned by this growth in cases," said Amy Westbrook, the county public health division director, in a statement. "We all want to put this pandemic behind us, but the highly contagious Delta variant is demonstrating why it is so important for people to get vaccinated. There are pockets in St. Louis County that have low vaccination rates that remain concerning."

The county’s announcement came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Friday that people who are vaccinated in metro areas should start to wear masks again indoors. That same day, the Minnesota Judicial Branch said judges could reinstate mask-wearing in courtrooms and public facilities.

The Minnesota Health Department has supported the CDC’s updates. As of Monday, the state said 44 of Minnesota’s 87 counties are considered to have substantial or high virus transmission.

During a phone interview that afternoon, Westbrook told the Mesabi Tribune that the Delta variant has made county officials readjust their masks recommendations and policies, less than three months after the state ended its mask mandate in June. Officials considered the jump in county cases due to variants and the fact that people are transmitting the virus to others despite being vaccinated.

For such reasons, they are following federal recommendations and advising people in the county to wear their masks in indoor public spaces.

“This is not a recommendation because the vaccine isn’t effective,” Westbrook said. “The vaccine is very effective and prevents illness and even death. The increased number of people we are seeing getting sick are those without the COVID-19 vaccine.”

She continued, “The best way to get past the mask recommendations is to increase our vaccination rates.”

Currently, 114,987 people in St. Louis County have received at least their first dose of a COVID vaccine, the news release reads. That represents 67% of residents ages 16 and older.

Officials said people who need their vaccines are recommended to find a clinic at stlouiscountymn.gov/vaccineregistration. They may contact their medical provider to ask about vaccine appointments, or visit mn.gov/COVID19/vaccine.

Officials also noted that anyone who receives their first dose of a vaccine through Aug. 15 will be eligible to receive a $100 Visa gift card from the state.

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