Gov. Tim Walz has unveiled a raft of new measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota, which will include a mandatory 10 p.m. bar close order.
The new restrictions, which come into effect Friday, also encompasses private gatherings and large events such as weddings and funerals, and comes as Minnesota deals with exponential spread of COVID-19, which is leading to rising hospitalizations and deaths.
Here's a look at the new restrictions:
- Bars and restaurants must close to dine-in service between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
- Indoor capacity at bars, restaurants will be capped at 150 people (previously it was capped at 250 and could not exceed 50% of total capacity).
- Bar counter service will be closed for seating in all venues except those that are counter service only.
- Bar games that require standing are not permitted.
- A 10-person limit on indoor and outdoor gatherings. All social gatherings must be limited to members of three households or fewer.
- A reduction in capacity limits for gatherings/receptions after weddings, funerals, and similar events to 50 people starting Nov. 27, and then 25 people from Dec. 11. These events may not take place between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
- All current restrictions remain in effect. Religious services may continue as data has not shown a connection between services and the recent spike in outbreaks.
Walz has announced that there will be an additional $10 million available for Small Business Relief Grants, which can support an additional 1,000 businesses.
With state budgets under extreme pressure, it's likely that further support for businesses and individuals will have to come from Congress, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this is not likely to pass until January.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, we’ve asked Minnesotans to make unprecedented sacrifices for the greater good. And they’ve done it. Because when times are tough, Minnesotans pull together,” said Governor Walz.
"Each step of the way, we’ve followed the best data available. These targeted, science-based actions will help get the spread of the virus under control so that we can care for those who fall ill, get our kids in the classroom, keep our businesses open, and get back to the activities we love.”
Effort to curb spread among young people
The decisions taken Tuesday has come after analysis of health data and guidance from the White House that has found the virus is "being disproportionately spread by younger adults between the ages of 18-35."
Walz's office said that 70% of COVID-19 outbreaks between June and November have a "direct link back to weddings, private social gatherings, and late nights at bars and restaurants."
The latest changes are not as strict as was seen at the start of the pandemic, when the governor's "Stay at Home" order saw bars, restaurants, and non-essential retail shut down for almost three months.
Walz had expressed reluctance to return to such a level of restrictions, not least because fewer people are adhering to COVID-19 recommendations now, but has taken a looser form of action as the situation in Minnesota becomes increasingly dire.
The worst of the outbreak earlier in 2020 was found in long-term care facilities, which accounted for around four-fifths of the total deaths in the state. But over the course of the pandemic that number has reduced as the virus became more widespread, with long-term care facilities now accounting for 69% of the total deaths.
The situation in long-term care remains severe, with staffing shortages leading to appeals for people to train to work in long-term care settings, while the National Guard has been called in to provide additional support at certain facilities.
New cases are now being measured in the several thousands every day, while the state's hospital ICUs are nearing capacity due to the rising number of patients with severe COVID-19.
Cutting the hours of bars and restaurants has been denounced by industry groups, which comes after Minnesota's venues have been hammered by the initial lockdown, the subsequent 50% capacity limit, and the downturn in demand among Minnesotans to dine out during a pandemic.
Both the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and Hospitality Minnesota have accused Walz of "unfairly" singling out the bar and restaurant industry under the latest restrictions.
"The state has repeatedly told us they do not intend to shut down restaurants and bars, and we have not been told any different today," Hospitality Minnesota said prior to the governor's speech.
"We would hope that any targeted restrictions being contemplated would take into account that restaurants and bars are affiliated with only 2% of the cases, and not unfairly single out these businesses."
The MLBA says that as far as it's aware, none of the COVID-19 outbreaks at bars and restaurants in Minnesota have been traced back to amusement games, so the ban on darts and pool "doesn't make any sense."
A number of restaurants have already announced they'll be shutting down during the winter months with the intention of reopening in spring, given that the already challenging conditions seen during a Minnesota winter will be exacerbated by the 50% capacity restriction on dine-in service.