(The Center Square) – Gov. Tim Walz announced a three-step plan on Thursday he claims will end most state COVID-19 restrictions by May 28.
Walz plans to end the statewide masking mandate once 70% of Minnesotans age 16 years and older receive their respective first injection, or by July 1. Currently, 2.6 million, or 59% of Minnesotans have gotten a shot. Walz’s office says the state is on track to vaccinate 70% of Minnesotans by the end of June.
“Our nation-leading vaccination effort has put us in a strong position to safely transition toward life as we used to know it,” Walz said in a statement. “The pandemic is not over and we have work to do. But from the State Fairgrounds, to doctor’s offices, to retrofitted Metro Transit buses that deliver vaccines where they’re most needed, Minnesotans now have more opportunities than ever to get the vaccine when and where they want to. As cases recede, more people get vaccinated every day, and vaccines are readily available to all who want it, we can now confidently and safely set out our path back to normal.”
About 87% of Minnesotans over the age of 65 have received at least one dose. Seniors have comprised 90% of the states’ COVID-19 deaths. Hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths have declined since mid-April.
Step one activates at noon Friday, relaxing some outdoor restrictions including:
- Removes limits for outdoor dining, events, and other get-togethers, and ends the mask requirement outdoors except at large venues with over 500 people.
- Eliminates the state-established mandatory closing time for bars, restaurants, and food and beverage service at other places of public accommodation.
On May 28, capacity and distancing limits will end for indoor events and gatherings. The requirements include:
- Face coverings indoors and for outdoor events that exceed 500 people.
- There will be no new safety requirements for businesses, though they must maintain their plans to keep their employees and customers safe – as they have from the beginning of the pandemic – guided only by a minimal universal state guidance document.
Either once 70% of Minnesotans age 16 years and older – just over 3 million Minnesotans – get at least one dose of the vaccine, or by July 1, the remaining mask mandate and the requirement for preparedness plans will end. Local jurisdictions and entities may set their own mask and safety policies.
Walz will still use his emergency powers to ban evictions and price gouging, as well as extend eligibility exemptions for people who receive state services.
“Minnesotans made today’s announcement possible through their hard work and perseverance,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “This is a day for us to celebrate the progress, while also recognizing the work that remains to be done. So long as the virus remains a threat to people anywhere it is a threat to people everywhere. That means we need to be watchful and keep up the good work that got us to this point. If you are eligible for a vaccine and haven’t received one yet, now is a great time to get one. Your decision helps protect your family, your community, and all Minnesotans.”
House Republicans pushed Walz to drop his emergency powers.
“More than fourteen months ago, we were told we needed two weeks to flatten the curve, protect our health care system, and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said in a statement. “The data clearly shows we’ve made incredible progress reducing case counts and getting Minnesotans vaccinated, but the governor insists on holding on to powers he doesn’t need — it’s time to open up and end the emergency powers.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the plan is “Not good enough and not soon enough. The emergency is over and the mandates need to end.”
“The Governor continues to lead alone, ignoring our suggestions and the suggestions of the businesses and medical community to find any compromise – especially on the mask mandate,” Gazelka said in a statement. “This does not make our job at the Capitol to pass a balanced budget without raising taxes, and on time, any easier.”