State government employees returning to the office must soon prove they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 or comply with at least weekly testing, under a new requirement announced Wednesday by Gov. Tim Walz.

The vaccine-or-test mandate, effective Sept. 8, applies to roughly 50,000 people who work under the umbrella of state government and on Minnesota State campuses. It comes as infections from the fast-spreading delta variant of the virus continue to rise in Minnesota.

"Vaccination is the best way to keep employees and the people we serve safe and ensure the delta variant does not derail our economic recovery," Walz said in a statement. "The state is leading by example and working to get our public employees vaccinated to protect themselves, their co-workers and their communities."

No official return-to-office date has been set yet for public-sector workers, but state officials are negotiating with worker unions to find a safe way for employees to return to in-person settings. Masking and social distancing requirements will be in place for most employees, except those who continue to work remotely.

The move follows similar requirements for federal government employees and public-sector workers in states such as New York, Washington and California, which is the first state to also require teachers and school staff to be vaccinated or tested.

On Monday, the University of Minnesota announced it will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once the shots receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The new state requirement applies to faculty and staff at Minnesota State's 30 colleges and seven universities. "Minnesota State has approximately 15,000 employees, and all of them are subject to the vaccination policy," system spokesman Doug Anderson said.

The state reported 344 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, an increase from 90 in mid-July, and a 5% positivity rate of diagnostic testing that meets its caution threshold for substantial viral spread.

Another 10 COVID-19 deaths were reported Wednesday along with 1,632 more coronavirus infections, raising Minnesota's totals in the pandemic to 7,715 deaths and 622,216 infections.

A sampling of positive specimens over the past two weeks has found the delta variant in 90% of new infections. Vaccinations have increased in response to the variant threat and a new $100 incentive program offered by the state. The more than 3.2 million people 12 and older who have received at least first doses of the vaccine make up 68.5% of the state's eligible population.

The DFL governor said he hopes the new state requirement will encourage other workplaces to do the same, boosting the state's vaccination rates. Walz gave up the emergency powers in July that he used to respond to the pandemic, but he doesn't need them to impose the requirement over the state employees who work under his administration.

The move drew a sharp rebuke from Republicans in the Legislature, who have opposed mask mandates and business closures throughout the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the mandate is "divisive and unproductive."

"Vaccines are widely available for those who want them and are incredibly effective at preventing the spread and impact of COVID," said Gazelka, who notes the state Senate is not subject to the requirement.

Leaders of the state's two largest state employee unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME Council 5) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), said they support vaccinations but have concerns about the new requirement.

MAPE President Megan Dayton said they don't know yet whether unvaccinated employees will be tested on-site during the workday, and how the state will cover the costs of testing employees.

The state says it's still working out the logistics of how to test employees with each agency.

"MAPE will work to ensure that members who cannot, or choose not to, be vaccinated are able to continue working with mitigations that protect everyone's safety through masking and testing," Dayton said in response to the new requirement.

Workers can prove they are vaccinated with an original CDC vaccination card, or a paper or electronic copy of their card.

Employees approved for telework arrangements aren't subject to the testing requirement, but they won't be allowed to enter the workplace for more than 10 minutes or to do other agency work outside of their home until they provide proof of vaccination.

Jeremy Olson and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.