Minneapolis is dropping a policy that required city employees to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo weekly testing, as the city prepares to enter a new phase of the pandemic.
The City Council approved the change Wednesday as part of a larger resolution that also solidified employees' ability to take time off work if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, receiving a vaccination or caring for a loved one with the illness.
"We are anticipating that the public health emergency will eventually end," Ricka Stenerson, total compensation director in the city's human resources department, told council members. She added that city leaders wanted to respond to employees' needs and ensure they have a plan to "be able to move forward with a healthy and safe workplace."
The change comes at a time when some Minnesota employers are lifting their own similar policies, while others are leaving them in place.
City Coordinator Heather Johnston said officials considered a number of factors when deciding to lift the policy, including changing federal health guidance and COVID-19's impact on the local medical system. COVID patients are accounting for a smaller portion of hospitalizations and ICU stays than they were at the beginning of the year, according to data kept by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The city has about 4,000 workers, and roughly 80% of them have provided documentation proving they are vaccinated, according to city statistics. Johnston said the city will continue to encourage employees to get vaccinated, to wear a mask and to stay home and take a test if they are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
The council approved the changes in a 9-0 vote. Council Members Robin Wonsley, Andrew Johnson, Lisa Goodman and Aisha Chughtai were absent. Mayor Jacob Frey approved it as well.
The change comes weeks after Hennepin County lifted a similar requirement for its 9,000 employees, also citing a desire to adapt to changing health guidance and changes in COVID-19 cases and their impact on the community.
St. Paul, meanwhile, has appealed a court decision that challenges its policy requiring city workers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or face discipline — and potentially termination. Unlike Minneapolis' policy, St. Paul's doesn't give employees an alternative testing option unless they received an exemption for religious or medical reasons.