Hours after talking with President Joe Biden and select governors about ways to show the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, Gov. Tim Walz stood on the sunbathed terrace at CHS Field in St. Paul and marveled at a prime example.
"Why would you not be out here on a night like this watching baseball?" said Walz, in a Minnesota Twins jersey mismatched with a St. Paul Saints cap. "We need to continue to try to incentivize them."
Biden earlier Tuesday invited Walz and five other governors from states with high rates of COVID-19 vaccination to discuss their successes and strategies to overcome recent slowdowns in public interest.
Examples in Minnesota included the Saints' giveaway of ticket vouchers at Tuesday night's home opener for fans who received their vaccinations at the stadium.
Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul gave free beer coupons to 141 people who received shots there on Monday night.
Biden congratulated the governors from Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah for "meeting the moment" with creative incentives for vaccination and maintained that many people simply need easier opportunities. He also called Walz a "stand-up guy" for his many public appearances to encourage people to seek vaccination.
"For that person who allegedly is an anti-vaxxer, it gets down to, in many cases, just a convenience," Biden said in the live video conference.
While Minnesota has no vaccine passport or other restrictions that would prevent an unvaccinated person from attending a Saints game, Walz encouraged people to gain the extra security of the vaccines and said they are highly safe and effective.
Pandemic activity remains at high levels in Minnesota — which had the second highest rate of new infections in the latest White House COVID-19 state report released Tuesday.
While this spring's third pandemic wave has eased substantially over the last two weeks, Minnesota on Tuesday reported another nine COVID-19 deaths and 583 infections with the novel coronavirus that causes the infectious disease. The state's pandemic totals are now 7,240 COVID-19 deaths and 589,527 known infections.
The nine deaths reported Tuesday all involved people who lived in private residences, an indication of vaccine effectiveness in the vulnerable long-term care population prioritized for shots this winter.
Walz commended efforts among tribal nations that have resulted in high vaccination rates and door-to-door outreach that generated high vaccine uptake among workers in rural Minnesota food processing plants hit hard in the initial waves of the pandemic.
Walz said around 64% of Minnesotans 18 and older have received at least first doses of vaccine, bringing the state closer to Biden's goal of vaccinating 70% of adults by July 4.
The state has its own slightly broader goal of vaccinating 70% of all people 16 and older and has reached 60.5%. Walz has pledged to end the state mask mandate for public indoor places by July 1, or sooner if the state reaches that vaccination target.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox encouraged the president and national leaders on Tuesday to motivate more vaccinations by showing that immunized people are safer to engage in more activities.
"What was working a month ago isn't necessarily going to work today," Cox, a Republican, said regarding vaccinations.
Biden agreed with his suggestion: "It's not only, you can hug your grandchild. You can do a lot more."
Maine Gov. Janet Mills discussed a new incentive program in which people who seek the vaccine will receive vouchers to spend on retail shopping, fishing licenses, minor league baseball, auto racing or other activities.
Later in the day at CHS, Walz said he was open to copying that idea and giving people financial incentives such as fishing licenses in exchange for vaccinations. As it is, Walz noted that Minnesota is seeing record numbers of fishing and hunting licenses as people seek to get back outdoors.
"I don't feel any guilt whatsoever about bribing people to do this — if that's what it is," he said. "They get something for it. It motivates all of us."
Walz commended businesses such as the Saints for offering incentives and vaccine opportunities.
"We've seen free beer, we've seen gift cards given out," Walz said. "I think the fishing license is a great thing. Now folks are mad that they got their shot [before the incentives], probably. I bought my fishing license this week, too."
Staff writer Christopher Snowbeck contributed to this report.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744