Restaurants and bars in Minnesota remain limited to a maximum of 50 customers in outdoor settings only despite Gov. Tim Walz on Saturday issuing an executive order that grants places of worship to reopen at 25% capacity with a maximum guest count of 250 allowed.
Walz explained that his decision, which came after meeting with faith leaders who planned to defy guidance that prohibited places of worship from gathering in crowds larger than 10, was made with the backing of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President Trump.
Asked if he would consider giving restaurants and bars more wiggle room to allow customers inside rather than outdoor-only service starting June 1, Walz said a change in guidance is unlikely.
"At this time, we're not making any changes on that," Gov. Walz said. "I don't want to set unreal expectations. But I do want to hear them and say I understand their great frustrations." He added that he doesn't want to "give false hope" but also chose to not completely "close the door as we try and talk through this."
Hospitality Minnesota called the governor's guidance for restaurants without outdoor seating a "disastrous" blow that could prove fatal for many operators who are already on the brink of closure after two months of shutdown that has relegated them to curbside pick-up and delivery.
In a question offered to Walz through another reporter, KARE 11's Chris Hrapsky said he has been informed that Blue Plate Restaurant Company, which owns nine establishments in the Twin Cities metro area, can only handle about another month of restrictions before some restaurants are forced into permanent closure.
"I'm trying the best I can to work with them on this. I hear them. I think a month is probably in many cases more than most of these folks can, so we are trying the best we can. I can't change the trajectory of where COVID-19 goes unless I get the collaboration and cooperation of folks to bring it back down," Gov. Walz answered.
Around two dozen restaurants have already collapsed under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, with the list of restaurants announcing permanent closures growing every day.
Two Blue Plate entities in Minneapolis, Mercury Dining Room & Rail, located at 505 S. Marquette Ave., and Shindig Event Space, located at 105 S. 5th St., are both temporarily closing beginning Monday.
"With limited patio space and very limited business traffic downtown due to remote working, it just doesn't make sense for us right now. We will also be serving our last curbside pick-up this Sunday, May 24," Mercury Dining Room & Rail announced on Instagram.
Churches being allowed more flexibility than restaurants is now another reason for debate about what's fair. Walz called it "frustrating" and "maddening," but reiterated that the difference is based on guidance from the CDC.
"That's the things that are maddening about this because it's very hard to do, but it has to do with those interactions, it has to do with the length of time there and the type of activity," he said.
The governor expressed that it "terrifies" him of what could happen if places of worship allow 250 people inside and strict safety measures aren't followed to a T.
"I don't say this to alarm people," Walz said, "it is my belief we are going to see some pretty rough weeks as we head to that peak no matter what we do."
Minnesota's peak, according to health experts, is expected to arrive some time this summer, perhaps as early as mid-to-late June or as late as early August.