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'We're Scared': Restaurants Grapple With New COVID Restrictions In Minneapolis, St. Paul

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Beginning next Wednesday, if you want to go out to eat in Minneapolis or St. Paul you'll need to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

"If you're coming downtown, if you're coming to a restaurant, you're going to a show, going to see the Wild or Timberwolves, go get your vaccination cards," Erik Hansen, director of Economic Policy and Development with the city of Minneapolis, said. "Please go get vaccinated. It's the easiest way to get in to a business."

The recent surge in cases forced both mayors to work together to find a way to reduce the impact of COVID-19. They say the mandate is one way to make sure businesses stay open and people stay safe.

FAQ: What To Know About The Vaccination Requirement For Bars, Restaurants In Minneapolis, St. Paul

"The surge in COVID cases across our city is causing pileups at testing sites and is overwhelming our hospitals and our health care workers. And the data is exceedingly clear that more is needed to keep our cities safe," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said.

Here are the rules in St. Paul: You need to show proof of vaccination (no booster required) or a negative lab test result from within three days. None of those self-administered antigen home test kits are allowed. And children under 5 are exempt.

The big difference in Minneapolis is that 2 to 5 year olds will also need that negative lab test.

The news hit some restauranteurs with a thud.

"Seriously, we are going through enough stuff already. This is another thing that we cannot handle," said Lotus Restaurant's Yoom Nguyen.

He believes the mandate will do the exact opposite of what city leaders expect.

"Restaurants are empty again, and to do something like this, of course, it's going to hurt our bottom line," Nguyen said.

Nguyen says the mandate adds more worry to restaurant owners because, unlike bars, they do not have someone at the door to handle checking vaccination cards.

"There is no way I'm going to hire someone to stand here at the door and to check ID's. What do we do when people are picking up food for to-go orders? Delivery drivers? There are a whole bunch of things that come along with this that doesn't make sense to us," he said.

At Keys Cafe and Bakery in downtown St. Paul, manager Sasha Renee already wears several hats.

"I'm basically the host, the busser, the server, the bartender, the manager, the food runner, the expo," Renee said.

But starting on Jan. 19th, she will have to add "checking customers for proof of vaccination" to her list -- and that has her feeling uneasy.

"I do think we'll have conflict because we already have people that don't want to comply with the masks," she said. "Are we supposed to ask for IDs too to make sure it's their vaccine card and not someone they borrowed it from?"

She says between Omicron and mask mandates, business is already down.

"We're scared. Like, are we gonna have to cut our hours? Are we going to have to temporarily close?" Renee said.

Keys customer Jody Ray doesn't mind.

"I'm all for it. I carry my card with me all time, I have a picture of it," Ray said. "I think things should even be stricter."

For Josh Hedquist, owner of Joey Meatballs, the news was another gut punch. And his gut reaction?

"I know why people make these decisions where they feel like it's in the best effort for their community, but it's gonna affect us," Hedquist said. "And there's no way around it."

Hedquist and several others tell WCCO that training staff on this and adding this to their plate will be a challenge. Though some say they're not worried about it. Fair State Brewing has been checking vax cards with IDs at the bar, and Namaste Cafe at their host stand.

Minneapolis says your card, a picture of your card or the Minnesota Docket app will all work, and that this will be in place until the Omicron surge peaks.

And businesses hope customers will work through this with them.

"I'm just ready for the hurdles to stop," Hedquist said.

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