Minneapolis, St. Paul restore mask mandates as virus spreads

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s two largest cities moved Wednesday to reimpose mask requirements in businesses and public places as the omicron variant of coronavirus spreads rapidly. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said the requirement would take effect in both cities at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Mayor Frey said it’s essential to keep the city healthy and moving, and wearing a mask is an obvious thing to do.

Minnesota reported 4,149 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday statewide, with 71 deaths. More than 10,600 people have died of the virus since the pandemic began.

"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."

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 reinstated mask mandates echo previous 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.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced plans to open three more COVID-19 community testing sites as the omicron variant stresses the state’s testing capacity.

Hubbard sister-station KSTP contributed to this story.