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St. Paul, Minneapolis to require proof of vaccine at restaurants, bars

Unvaccinated individuals must present proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken within the last 72 hours.

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ST. PAUL — Starting next week, Minneapolis and St. Paul will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry to bars, restaurants and other indoor venues in an effort to combat a surge of infections driven by the virus’s omicron variant.

The requirements, which the cities’ mayors described as temporary, go into effect next Wednesday, Jan. 19, for nonticketed events and Jan. 26 for ticketed events. They apply to all venues that serve food and drinks, including athletic events.

Patrons can present a vaccination card or a photo of the card to be admitted to an establishment. A person is considered vaccinated two weeks after completing a vaccination series whether it is a one or two-dose vaccine, according to interim Minneapolis health commissioner Heidi Ritchie.

Unvaccinated individuals must present proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken within the last 72 hours. Home antigen tests do not count as proof. The requirement does not apply to performers or athletes at venues provided the establishment follows other COVID-19 safety measures.

St. Paul’s requirement is set to expire after 40 days, at which point the city will consult with public health officials on whether the policy should continue, Mayor Melvin Carter told reporters at a virtual news conference Wednesday, Jan. 12. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey did not have a set expiration date for his city’s requirement.

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St. Paul and Minneapolis brought back their public masking requirements last week in response to surging cases of COVID-19. Ritchie said the city is applying the vaccine and testing requirement to eating and drinking establishments because of the heightened risk of transmission in those settings.

“Those are establishments where it’s very hard to wear a mask,” she said. “You go into the establishment and you’re going to be taking off your mask so that you can eat or drink.”

Enforcement of the vaccine requirements will be largely complaint-based. Minneapolis will take reports of violations through its 311 helpline. In Minneapolis, enforcement will begin with warning letters to businesses, followed by citations, action against business licenses or misdemeanor prosecution.

“The intent here is not to go in with a heavy hand,” Frey said. “The intent is – again – to allow our businesses to stay open while keeping people safer.”

Minneapolis and St. Paul’s mayors, both Democrats, did not get into specifics on what enforcement would look like, with Carter instead expressing optimism that businesses would support the new requirements.

“Our expectation is the vast majority of businesses will comply, will participate, and will perceive this as an opportunity to keep their business open and keep their employees working,” he said.

Minnesota’s leading industry association for bars and restaurants, however, expressed disappointment at the new rules.

“We are disheartened by today’s announcement by Mayors Frey and Carter,” said Liz Rammer, President and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota. “We share their grave concern for the public’s health and safety. Yet, this new vaccine and testing mandate for businesses serving food and beverages adds another enormous challenge for hospitality business as our operators struggle with historic labor shortages and a stalled economic recovery.”

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Rammer added that the burden of enforcement rests on businesses, potentially placing them at a further competitive disadvantage. She called for the mayors to establish clear guidelines for when the vaccine requirements would be lifted.

Minnesota Republican Party Chair David Hann strongly criticized the new vaccine and testing requirements in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, describing them as executive overreach. 

“These latest Democrat mandates are the last thing Minnesota businesses and workers need right now,” he said. “These mandates are yet another punch in the gut for Minnesotans and it is time for the public to say enough is enough and reject this government overreach at the polls in 2022.”

As the Twin Cities ramp up restrictions in efforts to curb the virus’ spread, Minneapolis Public Schools on Wednesday announced its plans to return to online learning from this coming Friday, Jan. 14, until Jan 31. In its announcement, the school district said the move is “in response to a significant reduction in staff available to work in person due to COVID-19.” Schools will be open for online learning for families who can’t keep students at home, the district said.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday reported a continued increase in COVID-19 test positivity rates and cases per 100,000 as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to drive a wave of infections across the U.S.

Following are the MDH COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Wednesday. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 10,719
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE OF NEW CASES PER 100,000 PEOPLE: 138.9 (as of 1/4)
  • TOTAL CASES, INCLUDING REINFECTIONS: 1,115,198
  • TOTAL REINFECTIONS: 23,163
  • SEVEN-DAY, ROLLING AVERAGE TEST POSITIVITY RATE: 19.8% (as of 1/4)

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 1,508
  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 52,953
  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 49
  • TOTAL DEATHS: 10,887

Vaccinations

  • FIRST DOSE ADMINISTERED: 3,788,080 or 72.7% of ages 5 and up
  • COMPLETED SERIES (2 doses): 3,553,874 or 68.2% of ages 5 and up
  • BOOSTER DOSES ADMINISTERED: 1,846,438
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