Wednesday afternoon, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced he will be easing of some COVID-19 restrictions, including indoor dining, due to decreasing coronavirus numbers in Minnesota, according to a spokesman from the governor’s office.
Indoor dining has not been allowed since mid-November after the governor put a pause in place due to rising case numbers around Thanksgiving. The indoor dining ban was set to continue through Jan. 10. Outdoor dining was allowed to resume Dec. 19.
“It appears like Minnesotans did an awful lot of things right around Thanksgiving,” Walz said. “There will be some changes to the mitigation strategy.”
Republicans in the Legislature put pressure on Walz earlier this week to release his next steps as soon as possible so bars and restaurants can prepare for customers.
“He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what it takes to operate a restaurant in Minnesota,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, adding that they needed time to order food and prepare to safely welcome customers back.
Wednesday, Walz announced the limited reopening of bars, restaurants and other venues and youth and adult organized sports will be able to resume games on Jan. 14 with spectators, but must follow capacity limits for indoor or outdoor venues.
Starting Monday, bars and restaurants can reopen for in-person dining at 50% capacity and with a 10 p.m. curfew, according to a release from the governor’s office. Movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums can also reopen at 25% capacity. All venues must limit the total number of people inside to no more than 150, and masks are required.
Under the new order, restaurant seating will be limited to six people per table, with social distancing between tables, according to sources. Bar seating will be limited to two people together at a time. Reservations are required.
Some businesses, such as Pizza Depot in Becker and Cornerstone Cafe in Monticello (as well as over 150 other businesses), defied Walz’ order last month and opened their restaurants to dining-in only to face backlash from the governor’s office and have been threatened with legal action.
Hospitalizations continue to trend downward from their peak in late November, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Walz forced thousands of businesses -- including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and more -- to close to customers Nov. 21. Business groups urged him to reconsider and a few have sued him over the restrictions.
Fitness centers, which reopened Monday with social distancing restrictions, can remain open under the new order at 25% capacity — capped at 150 people — and with nine feet of social distancing between people and machines.
Fitness classes can increase to 25 people, with social distancing and mask requirements. Pools, which also reopened this week, can remain open but at 25 % capacity under the new order.
While youth and adult organized sports will resume with spectators subject to capacity limits on indoor or outdoor venues, state health officials are discouraging participation in tournaments within Minnesota or outside of the state.
Outdoor entertainment and events will see increased maximum capacity of 250 people, up from 150. The state is not recommending any changes to private social gatherings, which are allowed with one other household, up to 10 people, or up to two other households outside.
Small wedding receptions may resume, but with strict limitations. Receptions where food and drink are served are limited to two households, or 10 people indoors. Three households or 15 people can gather for a reception outdoors.
National and state health officials are still warning about a spike in cases in other states, and the possibility still remains for a late, post-holiday surge.
“One year into this pandemic, we know that improvements are tenuous,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.
“If we let our guard down, COVID-19 finds a way to surge back in terrifying ways.”