Unlike their customers, employees working at bars, restaurants and other places offering indoor dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul won't be subject to new vaccination and testing requirements following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter have rescinded a portion of their emergency orders that required some local businesses offering indoor dining to abide by President Joe Biden's employer mandate for COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing of workers. The Supreme Court struck down the requirements for most businesses Thursday but left them in place for health care workers.
The orders were "in line with our commitment to do everything we can to keep residents & workers safe," Carter said in a statement. "We are monitoring the Court's decision ... and will continue keeping that promise within the bounds of its impacts."
Carter and Frey announced on Wednesday that they were going to begin requiring businesses to check people's proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before dining indoors. The mayors said they hoped to encourage more people to get vaccinated, reduce hospitalization rates and avoid shutdowns as the omicron variant fuels an increase in COVID-19 cases.
After the Supreme Court ruling, both cities re-examined their polices and scrapped provisions that required all businesses offering indoor dining, regardless of their size, to require testing or vaccination for employees.
While the latest orders nix the requirements for employees, city of Minneapolis spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the city "strongly encourages" vaccination. Businesses can enact their own rules that are stronger than the ones outlined in city orders.
Following public criticism, Frey also removed a provision that required some young children to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Minneapolis initially required children ages 2 to 4 to provide proof of a negative test, but exempted children under 2, citing the difficulty of testing them. Now all children under the age of 5 — who are too young to receive the vaccine — will be exempt from both requirements, bringing Minneapolis' policy in line with St. Paul's.
Steve Cramer, president and chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said it was good that Minneapolis and St. Paul had aligned their policies given their proximity. He also said it is important that when the wave of COVID-19 cases recedes, city policies should be adjusted as well.
"We should see this as a temporary response for the current situation, and if the current situation does improve then the temporary response should be modified or eliminated as well," Cramer said.
The mayors said they focused on indoor dining locations because people would likely be taking their masks off to eat and drink and because the cities already license many of those locations. In St. Paul, only about one-third of restaurants — those that sell alcohol — are licensed by the city and subject to the new rules, according to Suzanne Donovan, spokesperson for the city's Department of Safety and Inspections.
The requirements begin Jan. 19 for non-ticketed events and Jan. 26 for events where a ticket is required. More information on the orders — and what counts as acceptable proof of vaccination or a negative test — is available at startribune.com.
Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.