BISMARCK — Several universities in Minnesota will begin requiring masks on campus to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but North Dakota higher education officials haven't yet decided on the issue.

The University of Minnesota announced Monday, Aug. 2, it will require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors at its five campuses starting Tuesday. The Minnesota State public college system said last week face coverings will be required at campuses located in counties with higher levels of COVID-19 transmission, though many of the system's 37 campuses lie in areas with low rates of spread.

The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education could issue a mask requirement for North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities, however the board left decisions on masks last year to officials at each institution, and a localized approach is the most likely outcome this time around, university system spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said.

A panel of North Dakota college presidents and health experts has recently formed to determine how to safely start the semester later this month, but officials are waiting to see how the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 will affect the state, Lorius noted.

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Recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for indoor mask-wearing in the Twin Cities, Fargo, Bismarck, Minot and much of western North Dakota due to "high" or "substantial" levels of COVID-19 transmission.

The rapid spread of the delta variant in recent weeks has prompted local and state officials to readdress the contentious issue of mask mandates. As of Monday, nearly 60% of the nation's counties are deemed to have "high" levels of viral transmission, according to the CDC.