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New COVID restrictions issued for indoor dining in Minneapolis, St. Paul

Starting Jan. 19, businesses that serve food and beverages indoors will require patrons to show a vaccination card or a negative COVID test before they enter.

MINNEAPOLIS — Restaurants, bars and venues already hit hard by the COVID pandemic will impacted again, as city leaders in Minneapolis and St. Paul have imposed temporary restrictions designed to protect both employees and customers from the virus. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday that starting Jan. 19, businesses that serve food and beverages indoors will require patrons to show a vaccination card or proof of a negative test before they enter. 

Carter said that the temporary policy will take effect Jan. 19 for non-ticketed events in his city, while ticketed events or venues have until Jan. 26 to comply. The same date, Jan. 26, has been set for ticketed events or venues in Minneapolis to comply.

Restaurants, bars, coffee shops, theaters and concert halls, and sports arenas or facilities are among the venues that have to adhere to the new policy. 

“The recent surge in cases is overwhelming our hospitals and the data is clear that more is needed to keep our city safe and open while we weather this highly contagious variant,” said Mayor Frey in a statement. “This is an important opportunity to continue supporting your favorite local businesses and restaurants, knowing fellow patrons are either vaccinated or have tested negative. We all have a role in helping curb this surge in cases and keeping our city moving forward.”

FAQ: Answering your questions about new indoor dining policies in the Twin Cities

In a press release on Friday, Minneapolis officials said the mandate will expire at the end of February or at the end of the declared local public health emergency. in St. Paul, Carter said the policy will be reviewed in 40 days time, and then a decision will be made to extend or end it. 

Both Frey and Minneapolis Director of Economic Policy and Development Erik Hansen acknowledged the devastating impact COVID has had on the food and beverage industry, but said the new requirements are designed not to punish, but to help bars and restaurants. Both insist more customers will come out to eat and drink if they feel other patrons are safe.

"As a community we have to figure out how to adjust and live with the pandemic," said Hansen.

When questioned about enforcement of the policy and sanctions on businesses that don't comply, Hansen and Frey said the intent is not to go in with a heavy hand, but to encourage compliance. A warning letter would be the first step, followed by an investigation and perhaps a civil fine. 

Read the full emergency regulation in Minneapolis here.

Read the full emergency executive order (2022-4) in St. Paul here.

Wednesday's announcement is bound to trigger quick and emotional reaction from the food and beverage community, many of whom will likely see it as just another challenge after nearly two years of them.

“Super scary when our industry is already struggling and now we are being asked to police our guests," said Brian Ingram, owner of Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul. "Of course we support vaccinations and if this makes guest feel safer and they begin to show back up it would be great. My guess is we just hurt the industry again and are making the hospitality industry the enemy again.“

Liz Rammer, President and CEO at Hospitality Minnesota released a statement calling the new restrictions "disheartening," adding that it will be another major challenge for hospitality businesses to take on.

"We are disheartened by today’s announcement by Mayors Frey and Carter. We share their grave concern for the public’s health and safety," Rammer's statement reads. "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. 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.

B Kyle, President and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, shared similar concerns when it comes to small businesses.

"We’ve gotten strong feedback from members on both sides of this issue. All share the deep concern expressed by Mayors Carter and Frey for the broader community and our health care system," Kyle said in a statement. "The shared desire is to protect our community while ensuring business can continue. Our expressed concern with this approach is that it puts enforcement responsibility on businesses – more specifically, on front line workers. I can’t communicate strongly enough the extraordinary degree of pressure small businesses are facing right now, just to stay in operation - all while many already are preparing for the federal ETS mandate to be enforced. All of you, please, remember businesses are open, they need your support, and they need your consideration."

Tony Chesak, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association's Executive Director, released a statement claiming the hospitality industry is being "targeted" with the new restrictions.

Chesak's statement, in part, reads:

"They say we’re in this together - but this mandate shows that the hospitality industry is clearly targeted alone. We know both vaccinated and unvaccinated people spread the virus. And it happens at schools, work-out facilities, other retailers, sporting events, and more.”

Per the new COVID restrictions, the Minnesota Wild says, starting Jan. 26, anyone 5 and older attending events at the Xcel Energy Center will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test under medical supervision with 72 hours of the event. Fans will also be required to wear masks at all times, except while eating or drinking.

The food and beverage restrictions come on the heels of a re-imposed mask mandate in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, which went into effect last Thursday, Jan. 6.  

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