Walz announces loosening of COVID restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, events

Could everyone be eligible to receive the vaccine by April?
Governor Tim Walz

Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced a new round of loosened restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Beginning at noon on Saturday, Feb. 13, these changes will go into effect: 

  • Bars and restaurants maintain 50% indoor maximum capacity, but now allowed to host up to 250 people.
  • Restaurants allowed to stay open until 11 p.m.
  • Indoor entrainment businesses maintain 25% maximum capacity, but now allowed to host up to 250 people.  
  • Private events and celebrations allowed up to 50 people, with a maximum capacity of 25%. 
  • Gyms and pools can allow up to 250 people, while dropping social distancing measures from 10 feet to 6 feet. The maximum capacity remains 25%. 

Minnesota continues to see lower levels of COVID-19, giving Walz an opportunity to slightly dial back restrictions. Private gatherings have been limited to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 15 people outdoors, with those now being increased to a maximum of 50 people. 

“While these measures are not a major dial turn, we know that they will make a difference to thousands of businesses and workers across the state,” said Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove. 

This continues the trend of a rolling reopening of Minnesota businesses and activities. During a surge of COVID-19 in October and November, Walz imposed a curfew on bars and restaurants on Nov. 10, in addition to limiting social gatherings to 10 people. 

Walz, who is scheduled to speak about Minnesota's educator testing versatility at 11 a.m. Friday, then ordered bars and restaurants to close to indoor dining on Nov. 18, also ordering fitness centers and places of indoor entertainment close. 

He dialed back restrictions on fitness centers Dec. 20, also giving bars and restaurants permission to open for outdoor service. Youth sports were allowed to resume Jan. 4, followed by Walz allowing 50% capacity for indoor dining beginning Jan. 11. 

Meanwhile, spring break is right around the corner and state health officials say traveling out of state right now remains a risky idea due to high levels of COVID-19 in other parts of the country and world, not to mention more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. 

"As tempting as it is especially with these temperatures, it's still not a great idea to travel," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday.

"The more that we can do to prevent unnecessary transmission, the better," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the health department's infectious disease branch. 

Minnesota has already seen more than a dozen cases of the more contagious U.K. variant, as well as America's first case of the Brazilian variant, with the country's leading infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warning that the U.K. variant is set to become "dominant" in the U.S. by March.

Minnesota continues to make progress with vaccination, but a limited supply of vaccine doses continues to limit just how much progress can be made. Still, Ehresmann said Thursday that almost 30% of Minnesota's 65-plus population have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Healthcare workers, long-term care residents/staff and people aged 65 or older continue to be the focus of Minnesota's vaccine plan. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC's Today Show Thursday that getting a vaccine should be easy for everyone by April. 

"As we get into March and April, the number of available doses will allow for much more of a mass vaccination approach," Fauci said. "I would imagine by the time we get to April, that will be what I would call, for better wording, 'open season.' Namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated."

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