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VACCINE PRIORITY: Walz and local restaurant owners address getting shots to hospitality workers

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Employees at Victoria's Ristorante and Wine Bar in Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz spoke directly to an industry that has not always seen eye to eye with him during the pandemic, the restaurant industry.

According to a University of California, San Francisco study, line cooks at restaurants may have the highest mortality rate from COVID-19, even more than healthcare workers.

In fact, according to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, the industry lost 100,000 jobs across the state because of the virus.

"We've gained back about 50,000 so we're on our way to recovery," Grove said. "This is the ticket out, getting vaccinated."

As part of the 'Roll Up Your Sleeves' vaccine outreach campaign, Walz and other state leaders spoke at the Mall of America Wednesday about getting restaurant workers fully vaccinated.

It would be an end to what has been a wild ride for Rochester's Fiesta Cafe & Bar. The new owners took over right before the pandemic started.

"You know, everybody suffered," said owner Marcos Lara. "Last year was a tough year for everybody."

"It especially hit the restaurant and entertainment industry because of the nature of COVID," Walz acknowledged.

It's why the state plans to prioritize getting restaurant employees vaccinated. Currently, more than 3 million vaccine doses have gone into the arms of Minnesotans.

Many employers in Rochester are already ahead of the game.

"We got almost all of our employees done being vaccinated, myself included," Lara said. "I have to go get my second shot on the 17th."

Things are starting to get back to normal, even if new safety measures like masks, plexiglass and extra sanitizing remain.

"We just do our best to keep the same clean measures we had beforehand," said Natalie Victoria, owner of Victoria' Ristorante & Wine Bar.

Local restaurant owners say they have always maintained high cleaning standards. The only changes have been the addition of social distancing and masks.

"Do I think bars and restaurants have worn the monkey on their shoulders? Absolutely," Victoria said.

However, she says she understands the science behind the shutdowns and is excited to see customers starting to come back in the door.

"I think the vaccine on the horizon and better understanding of the virus are all in our favor," Victoria said. "This reopening is different from the last reopening."

Some in the industry are hoping to convince other restaurant workers to roll up their sleeves.

"Not only as a chef but also as a minority in this state, there's a lot of hesitancy in my community. A lot of people are discouraged about taking the vaccine," said DeMarco Cavil, Beasley Enterprises executive chef. "I'm honored to be a part of this to encourage more people. Let's get to normal and back to life."

Both restaurant owners pointed out the extra expenses new health guidelines have forced them to make.

On the state level, Walz says leaders continue to monitor COVID-19 cases. He hopes more restrictions on the restaurant industry can be lifted soon. However, he also says that depends on the spike in new cases.

Alex Tejada

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