Originally published Jan. 12, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In a bold move to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Twin Cities, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul announced Wednesday that they will be requiring patrons at bars, restaurants and sports venues to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show proof of a negative test in order to get inside.

On Friday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a series of revisions that had been made to the regulations, including the following items:

  • Changing the age for having a required negative test from 2 to 5,
  • Striking the OSHA reference due to Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling,
  • Adding definitions of proof of a completed vaccination series or negative test, and
  • Clarifying conditions and expectations for ending the regulation.

The new policies, which are unlike any other citywide restrictions put in place in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic, had many people scratching their heads, asking: Where do these policies apply? How will they be enforced? How long will they be in place? And how will violators be punished?

Below is a set of questions and answers about the new policies.

What Do The Policies Do?

While the policies for Minneapolis and St. Paul differ slightly, they both will require patrons of places where food and drink are sold to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test within the last 72 hours.

In Minneapolis, this policy includes venues like bars, restaurants, entertainment and sports venues, food courts, coffee shops and indoor cafes (such as in gyms or museums), and catering halls.

In St. Paul, the order will apply to any business licensed by the city.

When Do The Policies Go Into Effect?

The policies will go into effect on Jan. 19 in both cities, initially for establishments that serve food and drink for indoor consumption. On Jan. 26, the policy will expand in both cities to include ticketed events.

How Long Will The Policies Be In Place?

In a news conference, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said they’ll be in place until the Omicron surge peaks. No definite date was given.

Who Will The Policies Affect?

The vaccination requirement will extend to all people eligible to get the vaccine, which means anyone age 5 and older.

Who Is Exempt From The Policies?

In both cities, children under the age of 5 will be exempt.

While Minneapolis had initially planned to require that children ages 2 to 5 show proof of a negative test, that requirement has now been dropped, according to Minneapolis city officials.

Also exempt are athletes, performers, and supporting staff (coaches, trainers, techs, road crew members) booked for a performance or competition.

In Minneapolis, the policy specifically does not apply to schools or early child care facilities, hospitals, long-term care facilities, food and drink taken as part of a religious practice, grocery stores, convenience stores, soup kitchens or sites serving the homeless or other vulnerable populations.

Why Are The Mayors Doing This?

This is the mayors’ latest response to curb the surge in COVID-19 cases linked to the highly-contagious Omicron variant. The spike in cases has led to disruptions across virtually all industries, from shipping and hospitality to education and health care.

Last week, both cities reinstituted mask mandates.

In a statement, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said that the new vaccination requirement will allow bar or restaurant patrons to support their favorite establishments while knowing that their fellow patrons are vaccinated or have had a recent negative test.

“The surge in COVID cases across our city is causing pile-ups at testing sites and is overwhelming our hospitals and out health care workers, and the data is exceedingly clear that more is needed to keep our cities safe,” he said.

What Kind Of Tests Will Be Accepted As Proof?

Only PCR or antigen tests will be accepted. Rapid at-home tests will not.

How Can I Show Proof Of Vaccination?

Proof of vaccination can be shown via the vaccination card, a picture of the vaccination card or through the Docket app.

Will Booster Shots Be Required?

No. Just a completed vaccine series.

How Will The Policies Be Enforced?

Businesses will be responsible for screening patrons. Those found to be in violation could get warning letters, citations, civil penalties or even face a misdemeanor prosecution.

However, officials in both cities said that they will work with businesses, first focusing on education and then adhering to the policy.

How Are Restaurants Responding?

Yoom Nguyen of Lotus Restaurant in Minneapolis believes the new policies will do the exact opposite of what city leaders expect.

“Seriously, we are going through enough stuff already,” Nguyen said. “This is another thing that we cannot handle.”

He said there is no way he’s going to hire someone to stand in front of his restaurant to check IDs.

“What do we do when people are picking up food for to-go orders, delivery drivers? There are a whole bunch of things that come along with this that doesn’t make sense to us,” he said.

The group Hospitality Minnesota said that it was “disheartened” by the mayors’ decision, adding that already struggling businesses will be hurt by the policies.

“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, as reported in our recent survey on business conditions,” the group said in a statement. “Once again, the burden is being placed on businesses to enforce this additional mandate, putting them at a further competitive disadvantage and in a difficult position with the public and their frontline workers. As this goes into effect, it is crucial that both mayors are absolutely clear about the metrics that will drive the lifting of these mandates to help these businesses get on the other side of this latest surge.”

Additionally, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association said the mayors’ approach was unscientific, saying that it’s targeting bars and restaurants.

“The hospitality industry has complied with all the mandates, regulations, and more for COVID. But it’s hard to understand a vaccination mandate that’s unjustified and unscientific,” the group said. “It targets just one specific industry after zero science or data driving the decision, and zero caring about our dedicated front-line workers who will now add “enforcement agent” to their plates. The only scientific thing we know is that it has devastated the hospitality industry in other cities with these same mandates.”

Were Any Bars & Restaurants Already Requiring Vaccination?

A few bars and entertainment venues in the Twin Cities were requiring vaccination to eat or drink indoors. Among them were Fair State Brewing in northeast Minneapolis and First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

One of the co-founder’s of Fair State told WCCO that they made the decision based on feedback from the community and its member-owners.

Have Other Cities Tried Similar Policies?

New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles have implemented similar restrictions.

The Associated Press found that enforcement has been uneven in across these cities.

What Do Health Experts Think Of The Policies?

The Minnesota Medical Association, which is made up of 11,000 physicians, residents and medical students, applauded the mayors’ decision.

“As the Omicron variant continues to spread and exacerbate pressure on hospital capacity and our already weary healthcare workers, we need strong measures such as this to curb this pandemic,” the group said, in a statement. “We urge other communities across the state to consider similar temporary actions. The best defense against COVID-19 and serious complications remains vaccination and boosters. Well-fitted masks, social distancing, washing your hands, staying home when you’re sick, and getting tested if you have symptoms offer additional protection. These are all ways that Minnesotans can practice good health, protect your friends and loved ones, and demonstrate support for the thousands of healthcare workers who continue to selflessly care for patients on the front lines.”