While Minneapolis and St. Paul have reinstated mask mandates and are considering requiring proof of vaccine to get into bars and restaurants, Twin Cities suburbs are so far steering clear of these policies.
The Edina City Council spent nearly two hours wrestling with whether to pass a mandatory mask mandate at a special meeting on Friday. City leaders heard from local health department officials, examined data and charts, and asked dozens of questions.
"It is really difficult to know what to do," said Edina Mayor James Hovland at one point.
They ultimately passed a resolution that requested and strongly encouraged residents to wear a face covering in public places but stopped short of a mandate.
"The people who deal with the public are tired of being yelled at. The stress is overwhelming," said Council Member Carolyn Jackson. "I wish there was another way to raise the alarm other than a mandate."
On Monday night, the city of Bloomington will consider a resolution asking for voluntary compliance including mask wearing in areas of substantial or high community transmission.
"It is not a mask mandate, but it is a very strongly worded encouragement to follow all the recommendations of the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health," said Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse.
The resolution also implores residents and businesses to be "kind and patient with each other."
Busse said he believes the City Council will pass it.
"I don't see it as political. I see it as good public policy," Busse said.
But other suburban leaders say they lack the political will and the staff to enforce new mask policies at this time.
"I think it comes down to what is our role as local government on infringing on people's rights," said South St. Paul Administrator Joel Hanson. "If it's such a critical policy, it should be happening at a higher level of government."
Smaller cities don't have the resources to follow through, he said.
"Our ability to enforce those kinds of restrictions are nonexistent," Hanson said.
"We think it's really smart to wear masks when you are out in public," said Maplewood Mayor Marylee Abrams. "We don't have an appetite to create a city ordinance."
She said enforcement is the big issue.
"The question for us is who is going to enforce mask wearing? It's really not a law enforcement issue," Abrams said.
Richfield spokesman Neil Ruhland said masking policies stir passions so elected leaders are weighing public feedback.
"We have individuals that are very pro-masking and you have residents that are very opposed to mask mandates," Ruhland said. "Right now we are fielding feedback and listening to individuals. There is no specific time frame for any decision to be made."
"Minneapolis and St. Paul can move quickly because they have more resources," he said.
The rise in cases tied to the omicron variant has prompted larger cities, such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, to increase their COVID-19 requirements. Both cities have faced a surge in cases since the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant. Minneapolis officials said Friday that the community transmission rate now exceeds 900 cases per 100,000 individuals, putting the city in the "high-risk area" category defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Minneapolis and St. Paul renewed mask requirements effective Thursday, and the mayors in both cities are considering whether they should require people to provide proof of vaccination to enter gathering places, such as bars or restaurants. Similar policies have been implemented elsewhere in the country, primarily in large cities run by Democrats.
The policies vary. Many cities also extended the requirements to gyms, theaters or sports venues. Some cities only accept proof of a vaccination, while others allow people to show a negative COVID-19 test in lieu of that. Some cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles, have had the requirements for weeks or months. Others, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, are in the process of rolling out requirements.
In the places with requirements, the enforcement has been uneven, according to a report from The Associated Press. The report found that some places were waving people in if they flashed a vaccination card, while others were strictly inspecting it and cross-referencing it with people's ID cards. Some cities focused their efforts on the establishments, fining them if they repeatedly failed to check customers' vaccination status.
Staff writer Erin Adler contributed to this report.