Talking Points

Minneapolis' absurd new target in the COVID fight? 2-year-old diners.

In a joint announcement Wednesday, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul revealed a new pandemic policy beginning Jan. 19: Dining in at Twin Cities restaurants will require proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test performed in a medical setting (i.e. not an at-home test) within the past 72 hours.

That might not sound wildly unusual for a major urban area — New York City has had a vaccine mandate for many indoor activities for some time. What makes the Minnesota cities' rules novel is the age guidance: In New York, the full vaccination mandate kicks in at 12, with a single shot acceptable for children 5 to 11 and exemption under 5. In St. Paul, the full mandate starts at 5. But in Minneapolis, even 2-year-olds aren't exempt.

And where the St. Paul mandate at least has a 40-day timeline, however untrustworthy that may be, the Minneapolis rule, while ostensibly also temporary, is open-ended.

This is deeply stupid.

Even if parents are able to get their kids tested to comply — doubtful, given current shortages — the most significant effect will be to wastefully exacerbate those shortages. Kits that ought to go to symptomatic adults will now be spent on small children who are either entirely healthy or possessed of the standard toddler sniffle.

Another likely result, particularly if the rule drags past the 40-day mark, is that parents will have a new reason to bolt the Twin Cities. If I still lived in St. Paul, I'd be very happy to be in the better of the two cities (on this, but also on everything). And yet, I can't deny the rule would prompt thoughts of moving. Children should not be functionally excluded from key parts of society. I won't raise small monsters who don't know how to act in a restaurant because they've never been allowed inside.

Finally, this mandate is detached from abundant evidence about relative COVID risk, which is dramatically stratified by age in young children's favor — including, per a number of (admittedly not conclusive) studies, where transmission is concerned.

It's also downright miserable. Minnesota winters are cold, and the Twin Cities restaurant scene is amazing. Sometimes you want to eat out! Sometimes it's spur-of-the-moment! Sometimes you want to take your kids! Sometimes you should be accorded a tiny sliver of personal freedom and responsibility and be permitted to decide for yourself if your small child is fit to have noodles in public.