It's looking more likely the Minnesota State Fair will look normal this year.
Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday announced a timeline to end the majority of COVID-related restrictions by May 28, which is well ahead of the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
The State Fair was canceled in 2020 and replaced with two drive-through food parades due to restrictions in place designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
But this year, all business restrictions and the state mask mandate will be lifted more than a month before the start of the fair.
"These restrictions being lifted at this pace clearly will allow the State Fair to take whatever appropriate measures they want to take to keep guests safe but there will be no state restrictions on the State Fair as it relates to masking by the time the State Fair hits or overall capacity percentages," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said during a news conference Thursday.
Starting Friday afternoon, the majority of outdoor events "are really pretty open," Grove said. "Parades, festivals, gatherings in parks, all these events that are so great about summer, as of tomorrow, will proceed as they might usually in any given summer."
The state at noon on Friday is removing limits on outdoor dining, events and other get-togethers, and is ending the mask requirement for outdoors except for at large venues with more than 500 people.
And then on May 28, the state is removing the remaining capacity and distancing limits, including for indoor events and gatherings.
The face mask requirement for indoor and outdoor events with more than 500 people will remain in place until July 1 at the latest. That could be removed earlier if 70% of adults in Minnesota are vaccinated before then.
The loosening of state-mandated restrictions does not prevent businesses from requiring masks, social distancing or limiting capacity.
Grove said the state knows business leaders, like the State Fair, will "navigate what's right for their venues because they want to make sure people feel safe coming to their events."
"We expect to see some innovative and different solutions from those businesses," Grove said, noting "The time for the state to provide that guidance is fading in the coming weeks."
The Minnesota State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 26-Sept. 6. Before Thursday's announcement, Walz had said the State Fair would be pretty normal looking this summer.
In a statement to Bring Me The News, General Manager Jerry Hammer said:
"We’re excited by today’s news regarding the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, and we’re continuing to move forward with State Fair preparations. More information on the Great Minnesota Get-Back-Together will be shared in the coming weeks."
The State Fair is also hosting a Kickoff to Summer at the Fair from May 27-31. Event organizers had said masks would be required and capacity would be limited to 10,000 tickets per timeslot. Tickets are being sold via a lottery, with the deadline to signup for the lottery set for midnight Thursday.
Lara Hughes of the Minnesota State Fair told BMTN that based on current guidelines, face masks will still be required except when eating and drinking and at this time, they'll continue with an attendance capacity for the Kickoff event.
Meanwhile, other event planners are cheering the governor's announcement because it allows them to plan for upcoming festivals without questioning what the restrictions will be.
“This announcement gives us exactly what we’re asking for: guideposts along the way and certainty with upcoming concerts at Bayfront and the DECC,” Jeff Stark, who is in charge of venue operations at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, told the Duluth News Tribune. “It gives us the answers we want and allows us to move forward and rebuild our business that has been devastated for the last 14 months.
“(There has been) a collective sigh of relief and a jig that was danced to.”