As COVID-19 continues, know the rules

As COVID-19 continues, know the rules

Minnesotans with disabilities have endured several months of living under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Many have missed their day-to-day activities, including work and social time with friends and family. Others struggle with isolation and associated mental health challenges. 

Disability Hub continues to offer services and referrals to Minnesotans with disabilities at this time. Call 1-866-333-2466 or visit Disability Hub MN.

The Minnesota Department of Health is posting daily updates about the pandemic, including statistical data, information about the virus, how people can cope information and how to protect oneself. Guidelines are regularly updated and posted for nursing homes and care facilities, public events and other places. Go to the website, Situation Update for COVID.

A state mandate on masks continues. Since late July, Minnesotans are required to wear masks or face coverings in public indoor spaces, unless alone. Additionally, workers are required to wear a face covering when working outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained. 

Types of face coverings allowed can include a paper or disposable mask, a cloth mask, a neck gaiter, a scarf, a bandanna, or a religious face covering. Some tests show that gaiters are less effective in preventing the spread of diseases. 

A face covering must cover the nose and mouth completely. The covering should not be overly tight or restrictive and should feel comfortable to wear. 

Any mask that incorporates a valve that is designed to facilitate easy exhaling, mesh masks, or masks with openings, holes, visible gaps in the design or material, or vents are not sufficient face coverings because they allow droplets to be released from the mask. 

A face covering is not a substitute for social distancing, but is especially important in situations when maintaining at least a six-foot distance from other individuals who are not members of the same household is not possible. 

Face shields, clear plastic barriers that cover the face, are an option if wearing a mask is problematic. Health officials caution that it’s not known whether face shields provide the same level of protection as masks. But the shields do provide an alternative for people who may have trouble wearing a mask. 

Confusion continues over who should and should not wear masks, with government agencies and disability service and advocacy groups speaking out against false claims that people are simply exempt from mask regulations due to disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t exempt people from wearing masks. 

There is recognition in the state’s mask mandate that people with some disabilities may struggle to wear a mask and may not be able to wear one. That can include people with respiratory, mental health, developmental or other types of disabilities. But Minnesotans need to be aware that not being able to wear a mask or face shield may mean being turned away from places. 

Children under age 2 years must not wear face coverings. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old are not required to wear face coverings, but are encouraged to wear a face covering when in public if they can do so reliably. 

Minnesotans with disabilities should also stay abreast of Department of Human Services (DHS) regulatory changes. Under Gov. Tim Walz’ emergency executive order, DHS has temporary authority to waive or modify requirements so that Minnesotans can continue to access essential programs and services safely and without undue delay during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A state law that took effect on June 24, 2020, specifies when waivers and modifications will expire. Some are subject to federal authority. Others remain in effect until certain dates as determined by state law. DHS has flexibility to keep the remaining waivers in effect for no more than 60 days after the end of the peacetime emergency. 

Read about the waivers, which are for an array of DHS programs and services, at the DHS Waivers and Modifications website