Minneapolis and St. Paul will require customers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues, marking some of the most aggressive steps the Twin Cities have taken to curb the spread of the virus.
The action comes as officials are trying to temper a spike in infections and hospitalizations fueled by the fast-spreading omicron variant, which is causing staffing shortages across industries.
“This is a critical next step to avoid closures,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said at a virtual news conference alongside St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and other officials. “We want to stay open, and we need to stay safer.”
The new restrictions — which will apply to places where food or beverages are sold for on-site, indoor consumption — will go into effect for most businesses Jan. 19, though ticketed events will not be required to comply until Jan. 26. Patrons can provide either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken under medical supervision within the last 72 hours. Proof of booster shots is not required.
The orders, which both mayors enacted Wednesday with their emergency powers, also apply to stadiums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, convention centers and other venues that serve food or drinks. St. Paul’s mandate will apply only to businesses that are licensed by the city, meaning restaurants that don’t sell alcohol will not have to follow the new regulation.
“We know that the big difference between those early stages of the pandemic and today is that we have more tools in our toolbox than ever before,” Carter said at the news conference. “We’re not helpless against the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.”
Customers will be considered vaccinated two weeks after completing any of the vaccine series approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), officials said. They can present businesses with a physical vaccine card, a photo of one or the state’s Docket app as proof.
The measures were announced a week after both mayors reinstated indoor mask mandates. The new orders target dining spots because customers cannot wear masks for protection from the virus while eating or drinking, officials said.
State officials said late last week that the omicron variant accounts for about 68% of current cases in Minnesota. Heidi Ritchie, Minneapolis’ interim health commissioner, said the city’s community transmission rate now exceeds 1,300 cases per 100,000 individuals, putting the city in “the high-risk area category,” according to CDC criteria. Ramsey County falls into the same tier with more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents.
At the news conference, Ritchie said the new regulation primarily aims to boost vaccination rates and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. “We’re building our wall of immunity in the city and in the state,” she said.
The Twin Cities follow the lead of cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, as well as several countries that implemented similar restrictions this summer to incentivize vaccinations and prevent viral spread.
As she exited St. Paul’s RiverCentre late last week after getting a COVID-19 test, Mary Oo, 28, said she and her husband recently visited New York City and appreciated knowing fellow diners had been vaccinated. But at home, Oo said, she knows many members of the Karen community who still have reservations about getting their shots.
“Maybe this would give them the push to get vaccinated,” she said.