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Minnesota braces for new restrictions ahead of Walz announcement

The governor will take further action as the state's COVID crisis worsens.
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Businesses and residents in Minnesota are braced for enhanced restrictions set to be confirmed by Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday evening to combat Minnesota's COVID crisis.

Walz will announce a series of new restrictions in a Wednesday evening speech – which you can watch here – as his administration takes the latest step to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 in the state, which is putting huge pressure on Minnesota's hospitals and near-capacity ICUs.

While Minnesota has spare ICU bed capacity, the most immediate problem is getting the healthcare workers to staff them as an increasing number of them are contracting the virus. The Mayo Clinic reported Tuesday that 900 of its staff have tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks.

The situation in the hospitals is likely to get even worse given there is a lag of a few weeks between new cases and hospitalizations, and a major escalation in positive tests in Minnesota has been seen since the start of November.

After initially suggesting he would impose a "pause" on youth sports in Wednesday's announcement, it emerged Tuesday that the restrictions planned by the governor will now be far more extensive, with implications for bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, and social gatherings as well as youth and prep sports.

It's being reported Wednesday morning that Walz is expected to announce a 4-week shutdown, with bars and restaurants restricted to takeout only, with gyms and fitness centers set to close.

Some restaurants are resigning themselves to the end of dine-in service, having only just last week seen new restrictions put in place that ended service after 10 p.m., and having dealt with maximum capacity restrictions since they reopened at the end of the Stay at Home order in early June.

Birch's on the Lake in Long Lake announced it would be canceling its upcoming musical events due to "upcoming restrictions and concerns around COVID-19," and that it will transition back to its takeout service.

"We are not sure what the immediate future holds for restaurants, however we value our loyal customers deeply and hope our continued efforts to support safe and guideline upholding indoor dining and to offer even more Take Out options for our guests will keep Birch's on the Lake first on your list for dining options during this time," it posted on Facebook.

Many restaurants have already announced plans to close down till the spring, owing to the weather-related challenges of operating successfully during a Minnesota winter, while recognizing that businesses likely won't return to a semblance of normality until the pandemic is under control.

Elsewhere, those involved with the Minnesota State High School League were preparing for the potential end of the football season.

Walz's decision to leave the announcement until 6 p.m. Wednesday was criticized by Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar), who urged him on Tuesday to announce the new restrictions as soon as possible to give businesses and individuals as much time as possible to prepare.

"Minnesotans recognize how grave the situation is with COVID-19 spreading uncontrolled throughout the state," he said. "We're ready to do our part for our health care workers, no matter how difficult the coming weeks will be, and prevent a capacity crisis for our hospitals and health care facilities. But we need to do this together with transparency."

"Governor, businesses and employees are terrified – they're operating off rumors and hints in the media, desperate for any information they can get," he added. "They need every hour possible to plan for these new restrictions, and a clear timeline so they can plan for the weeks ahead.

"I'm not asking you to reverse the restrictions, I'm asking you to be up front with Minnesotans, and announce as many details as you can tonight or tomorrow morning, so we can work together to help save lives and limit damage to businesses as much as possible. Most restaurants just received their latest food order — I hope you will at least give them until Sunday so they have the weekend to move what they have in stock."

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