Minneapolis, St. Paul reinstate mask mandate for businesses, government buildings

Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors have reinstated indoor mask mandates at all public-facing businesses and city-controlled facilities as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the Twin Cities metro with the onslaught of the new omicron variant.

The mandates signed by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter both take effect 5 p.m. Thursday.

The reinstated mask mandates echo precautions the city had put in place prior to the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and apply to all individuals, regardless of vaccination status. Both cities dispensed of their previous mask mandates last June.

"Reinstating the masking requirement is an important step in keeping our communities safe amid the surge of COVID-19 cases in Saint Paul," Carter said in a statement. "This, alongside our work to ensure Saint Paul residents have the tools and access they need to get vaccinated are paramount to recovering from this pandemic and building toward our future."

The St. Paul mandate requires face coverings indoors when "social distancing of at least 6 feet" is not possible, except when people are eating or drinking. The requirement does not apply to athletes, performers and supporting staff competing or performing at indoor venues.

St. Paul businesses that are not public accommodations are "strongly encouraged" to require masks indoors.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis city officials state "areas of public accommodation" include "any indoor locations where members of the public may gather, visit, or patronize and can include, but are not limited to, bars, restaurants, museums, theaters, schools, recreational facilities, retail locations, and service offices."

"We have to keep our city healthy and moving. Wearing a mask is an obvious next step to do both," Frey said in a statement. "The data is clear. The surging numbers of cases and hospitalizations from the Omicron variant demand immediate action to keep our residents healthy while making every effort to allow schools and businesses to remain safe and open across our Twin Cities."

The Vikings and Wild both issued statements Wednesday alerting fans that masks will be required at events at U.S. Bank Stadium and Xcel Energy Center going forward.

During a conference call Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz said bringing back the mask mandates "makes sense" because of the prevalence of the omicron variant but balked at instituting one statewide.

"I would expect there would be other jurisdictions that may follow, but I think there are places in the state … a lot of places in Greater Minnesota are probably not going to make that decision, and even if we tried to do that, I’m not sure that folks would comply," Walz said.

The Minnesota Medical Association issued the following statement in response to the mask mandates:

"The Minnesota Medical Association, on behalf of its 11,000 physician, resident, and medical student members, fully supports the decisions by Minneapolis and St. Paul to re-institute mandatory mask use while indoors. We urge other communities to consider similar actions. Wearing well-fitted masks is a valuable strategy in our ongoing fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 and the highly contagious omicron variant. 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 and demonstrate support for the thousands of the state’s healthcare workers who continue to selflessly care for patients on the front lines."