Mask mandates back in Minneapolis, St. Paul

New rules, which cover most indoor public spaces, go into effect Thursday

The Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall got a mask.
The Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall, on April 1, 2020, with a mask and rubber glove, in downtown Minneapolis. This Wednesday, mayors for St. Paul and Minneapolis reinstated mask mandates for the cities.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP 2020 file

Updated: 3:28 p.m.

St. Paul and Minneapolis are reinstituting mask mandates for the public, seven months after lifting them. Both mandates go into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The mayors of both cities simultaneously announced the mask orders Wednesday afternoon, citing the growing spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has been fueling a surge in cases in the state.

“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,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement that accompanied the order. “We have to keep our city healthy and moving. Wearing a mask is an obvious next step to do both.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter offered a similar reasoning: “Reinstating the masking requirement is an important step in keeping our communities safe amid the surge of COVID-19 cases in St. Paul.” 

Data show that much of the recent rise, thought to be caused by the transmissibility of the omicron variant, has been in the Twin Cities.

"We need to be sure that we're protecting our neighbors from getting sick and potentially dying,” Frey said Wednesday as he announced the new masking policy for the city.  

New COVID-19 cases by Minnesota region

The requirements in Minneapolis include bars and restaurants, schools, recreational facilities and stores. St. Paul's order includes all businesses with city licenses, which covers virtually any public or commercial establishments.  

The move comes just seven months after the two cities lifted their previous mandates at the beginning of June, 2021. That was weeks after Gov. Tim Walz lifted a statewide mandate, in the wake of a CDC advisory that said face coverings weren’t necessary for vaccinated people.

Minneapolis and St. Paul first ordered mask mandates in May of 2020, after a near-shutdown of the hospitality industry — although many retailers and others had established mask requirements earlier in the pandemic.

The new orders have some exemptions, but do not include exceptions for people who have been vaccinated. 

Walz said Wednesday he supports the mandates and that he believes other cities will follow with similar requirements. But the governor stressed that he is not considering a statewide mask mandate.

“A lot of places in Greater Minnesota are probably not going to make that decision,” Walz said. “And even if we tried to do that, I’m not sure that folks would comply to the level we need it to.”

Walz said while he encourages masks, his focus for now is on increased testing and vaccinations.