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St. Paul and Minneapolis will soon require indoor diners to show proof of a COVID vaccination or a recent negative lab test. 

It's the latest measure being taken to try to slow the spread of the virus, with mayors Melvin Carter and Jacob Frey having reinstated a public mask mandate last week. But omicron has proven to be more transmissible and with a potentially shorter incubation period than prior COVID strains.

So is requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test enough to curb COVID's rapid spread, considering the omicron variant has led to an increase in breakthrough cases among the vaccinated?

Leaders with the two Twin Cities responded to that question Wednesday, defending the upcoming measures as an important step.

"Stressing the need and urge for people to get vaccinated is still one of our top priorities in local public health and across the state," said Sara Hollie, director of public health for St. Paul and Ramsey County.

Hollie cited one key factor: The effectiveness of the vaccines (plus a booster) in preventing serious illness, hospitalization or death — even with omicron — is still high. 

And while breakthrough cases have become more common with omicron, the data suggests being fully vaccinated with a booster still helps lower an individual's odds of getting infected in the first place.

Recent data from the UK shows boosters may be 75% effective at preventing symptomatic infection from omicron altogether, while the New York Times said case rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated show being vaccinated "reduces the chances substantially" of testing positive.

Minnesota Department of Health figures show infection rates show that unvaccinated people are getting infected at a rate more than four times higher than the vaccinated – albeit these figures are only up-to-date as of Dec. 5, before omicron arrived in earnest in Minnesota. 

Nonetheless, it could be argued that a restaurant filled with vaccinated people has a better chance of reducing COVID spread compared to a restaurant with a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated.

That's why Hollie called vaccines "an effective way" to prevent serious illness and slow the virus' spread, while interim Minneapolis Health Commissioner Heidi Ritchie described building a "wall of immunity" in the Twin Cities and the state against COVID through the vaccines.

"I think that we want to use all the tools in our toolbox in order to curb the transmission rate also make sure that we're not overwhelming our hospital systems," she said. "We know that the pandemic doesn't have an end date and it knows no borders."

The new requirements, which applies to all establishments that serve food or drink indoors, take effect Wednesday, Jan. 19. You can read more about them here.

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