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St. Paul, Minneapolis mayors defend vaccine mandate to dine indoors

Similar dining policies are already in effect in San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. It's a decision the Minnesota Medical Association says it supports.

MINNEAPOLIS — Wednesday's announcement in the Twin Cities about a pending vaccine mandate to dine indoors drew swift reaction from the food and beverage industry — along with many questions from you.

Similar policies are already in effect in San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. It's a decision the Minnesota Medical Association — made up of 11,000 physicians — says it supports.

"The virus has changed; our response should change," said Dr. George Morris. "It does help assure everybody that the people you’re gathering around are safer."

Morris, a CentraCare physician, is also a member of the MMA and acknowledges, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that vaccines can't stop the spread of COVID.

However, he stresses that vaccination still provides protection, which is also a reason the St. Paul mayor says he's enacting the mandate. 

"The vaccine still reduces the likelihood that people will experience severe symptoms, hospitalization and death as a result of it," said Mayor Melvin Carter. 

It still has some people in the food and beverage community calling this another blow to their livelihood, questioning whether they have to police patrons after already being hit hard by policies throughout the two-year pandemic.

"Our hope is that this is a policy that keeps those businesses open, those restaurants going, and gives our patrons the confidence they need to go down to the local restaurant, or go down to the local store and keep supporting our local businesses," said Mayor Carter. 

Mayor Carter reiterated that now is the time for a mandate, especially given the state's daily case counts surpassed 11,000 on Thursday.

"The success of cities we’ve seen across the country and the concern we have about the case counts right now, all go into informing a policy like this," said Mayor Carter.

"This is just an intense treatment that we can all do," said Dr. Morris. "We can all participate for the next two to six weeks, which means push through until the end of February."

When asked when the restrictions will expire, Mayor Carter said St. Paul policy dictates that the policy be reviewed in 40 days, and then a decision will be made to extend or end it. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Minneapolis will not set a hard date but will watch how the omicron variant cycles. He expressed optimism they will not last long, referring to predictions by epidemiologists that the current COVID surge may be peaking in the next few weeks. 

KARE 11 also asked Mayor Frey to respond to other questions and reaction over the mandate. Here's what he said:

Q: Why now does the mayor think this decision was necessary? Some reaction is that this step would have been better or made more sense months ago. 

Mayor Jacob Frey: “This is not a decision that we took lightly. I am grateful to the small business, medical, and public health leaders from across Twin Cities who helped shape the policy and to city staff for their work to move the measure forward and keep residents, visitors, and workers safe.”

Q: What is the mayor’s response to the burden this may put on workers who have to “police” patrons who aren’t compliant? 

Mayor Jacob Frey: “We all have a role in ensuring this policy can help curb this surge in cases and keep our city moving forward. I ask all patrons to be respectful and patient as we figure this out together. If you have a problem with this policy you can take it up with me, not the servers, hosts and business managers who are working incredibly hard during this challenging time.”

Q: Did success with California and Louisiana’s proof of vaccination play at all into this decision? What metric(s) was used? 

Mayor Jacob Frey: "We looked at the requirements in San Francisco, NYC, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, King County and LA. We mostly looked at vaccinations before and after the implementation of the requirement as well as general data around hospitalizations."

Q: The public (and now the CDC) says vaccinated people can still spread this variant and want to know what good is it and how will it slow the spread down? 

Mayor Jacob Frey: "We know that restaurants, bars and large events are places where COVID-19 spreads. So increasing the number of people that are vaccinated in those places will reduce the probability of severe disease and hospitalization, even though it might not reduce infection. Additionally, requiring vaccines has resulted in increased vaccination rates."

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