It should be painfully clear by now that the COVID-19 pandemic isn't a sprint but a marathon, potentially an ultramarathon. Learning to live with it involves calibrating measures to deliver normality while preventing as much harm as possible from a dangerous virus.
The temporary vaccination requirements announced Wednesday for Minneapolis and St. Paul bar and restaurant patrons are the latest attempt to strike that balance. While far from ideal and overdue, the requirements are a sensible middle ground between a shutdown or doing nothing in the midst of omicron's alarming surge.
This is a focused approach that draws on a widely available tool — a free vaccine — and the knowledge that's accrued about high-risk conditions. Regrettably, that's crowded indoor conditions like those inside bars and restaurants.
Adding to the concern: Eating and drinking make it difficult to keep face masks on. Requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry isn't picking on these establishments. Instead it reflects what's now known about where the virus thrives.
The requirement will help ease pressure on the state's swamped hospitals by helping prevent severe illness. It also should provide a timely nudge for vaccine holdouts to get the shots.
"The new restrictions — which will apply to places where food or beverages are sold for on-site, indoor consumption — will go into effect for most businesses Jan. 19, though ticketed events will not be required to comply until Jan. 26," the Star Tribune reported. St. Paul's order has a 40-day sunset. Mayor Jacob Frey, who said the Minneapolis measure is temporary, should have put an end date on it, too.
Cities with similar requirements include New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Boston. It's unfortunate that the Twin Cities didn't take action sooner given the fall surge here caused by COVID's delta variant.
Critics of the new measures here include the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and Hospitality Minnesota, which decried them as a "burden" that will put businesses at a "competitive disadvantage."
But industry leaders elsewhere had a more temperate take. Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said in an interview that Chicago's vaccine requirements will help keep restaurants open as omicron hits. He also said requiring proof for entry is far better for businesses than partial occupancy, an early-pandemic mitigation approach.
New Orleans has had a vaccine requirement for months for bars and eateries. Scot Craig is a chef who owns and operates three restaurants there: Katie's Restaurant and Bar, Francesca's by Katie's and Bienvenue on Hickory. He's also a leader in the Louisiana Restaurant Association's New Orleans chapter.
In an interview, he said implementing the new requirement was "very, very difficult in the beginning." But, he said, everyone got used to it. "As with all things, it quieted down."
Even customers who got angry about the new requirement didn't stay mad. They came back in a few weeks, Craig said. He also saw some customers come in who hadn't been dining out but started doing so because the requirement made them feel safer.
We wish that Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter had provided more scientific evidence to support the measure. At an editorial writer's follow-up request, Minneapolis city officials provided two studies, one from The Lancet and another published in Nature, suggesting that the new requirements will help boost vaccination rates.
The mayors also should have been more forthcoming about vaccines' waning protection against omicron infection (but note: The shots still are highly effective against hospitalization and death).
In response to an editorial writer, city officials said, "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."
Omicron's rapid spread requires action. Medical providers are exhausted and their ranks thinned. Complying gracefully with the new vaccine measure shouldn't be too much to ask.