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A year after COVID-19 began, Gov. Walz loosens restrictions; restaurant groups ask for clear reopening plan



(The Center Square) – On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz announced loosened COVID-19 restrictions, beginning on noon Monday.

“Minnesotans should continue to take simple steps to protect the progress we’ve made, but the data shows that we are beating COVID-19,” Walz said in a statement. “Our vaccine rollout is leading the nation, the most vulnerable Minnesotans are getting the shot, and it is becoming increasingly more safe to return to our daily lives. The sun is shining brighter.”

The announcement follows more than a million Minnesotans receiving a first COVID-19 vaccination, while more than 70% of seniors have gotten a shot. Roughly 90% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are those ages 65 and older.

“This dial turn is possible thanks to all the hard work so many Minnesotans have done,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “At the same time, it’s important to not let our guard down until we’ve finished the job. COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, and we’re seeing the new variants more frequently. We need to keep up the prevention measures like masking, social distancing, staying home when sick, and getting tested when appropriate.”

Loosened restrictions include:

  • Social gatherings: Up to 50 people outdoors or 15 people for indoor gatherings, both without household limits.
  • Youth sports: Pod size increasing to 50 for outdoor activities.
  • Religious services: Remove occupancy limit, but social distancing required.

For businesses:

  • Bars and restaurants: Increasing allowable occupancy to 75%, up from 50%, with a limit of 250 people. The limits apply separately indoors and outdoors. Bar seating increases to parties of 4.
  • Salons/barbers: The occupancy limit will be removed but social distancing us  required.
  • Gyms/fitness centers/pools: Increasing allowable occupancy to 50%, up from 25%. Outdoor classes can increase to 50 people.
  • Entertainment venues: Increasing allowable occupancy to 50%, up from 25%, both indoors and outdoors, with a limit of 250.

For larger venues:

All venues can open at 50% capacity of up to 250 people. Venues with normal occupant capacity over 500 can add additional guests, effective April 1:

  • Seated outdoor venues can add an additional 25% of their capacity over 500, with a limit of 10,000 people.
  • Non-seated outdoor venues can add an additional 15% of their capacity over 500, with a limit of 10,000 people.
  • Seated indoor venues can add an additional 15% of their capacity over 500, with a limit of 3,000 people.
  • Non-seated indoor venues can add an additional 10% of their capacity over 500, with a limit of 1,500 people.

Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak said the capacity change is only helpful to larger establishments and asked for a clear reopening plan.

“With positive news of declining cases and robust vaccinations, Minnesotans now deserve a clear and transparent plan to fully reopen our state,” Chesak said in a statement. “Governor, if other states can develop detailed reopening plans with health-based metrics, dates, and other milestones, why can’t Minnesota?” 

Beginning April 15, state government will stop requiring businesses’ employees work from home but it will be strongly recommended. All employers should continue to accommodate employees who wish to work from home.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, welcomed the changes but renewed Republicans’ demand that Walz relinquish his pandemic powers. 

“It’s positive news except for the fact that it’s only his hands on that dial,” Gazelka said in an afternoon press conference. 

“We’re at that point where the people that are most in danger from COVID-19 are being vaccinated and it’s just a matter of weeks now before all of them that want to be vaccinated will be vaccinated, so we renew our demand that the governor remove his emergency powers so that we can work hand-in-hand.” 



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