On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz announced a loosening of some of the COVID-19 restrictions concerning everything from indoor social gatherings to sports games to weddings and proms.
The announcement comes after a month of dropping daily case numbers, low case-positivity rates and a drop-off in hospitalizations and deaths. It also comes as more than 20 percent of Minnesotans, and 70 percent of seniors, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Minnesotans should continue to take simple steps to protect the progress we’ve made, but the data shows that we are beating COVID-19,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement Friday morning. “The most vulnerable Minnesotans are getting the shot, and it is becoming increasingly more safe to return to our daily lives. The sun is shining brighter.”
As of noon on Monday, March 15, the following will be allowed:
- Social gatherings can have up to 50 people outdoors or up to 15 people indoors. There will be no limit on the number of households in attendance. Previously, indoor gatherings could include up to 10 people from no more than two households. Outdoor gatherings could include up to 15 people from no more than three households.
- Youth sport pod sizes can increase to 50 for outdoor sporting activities. Pod sizes were previously 25.
- Religious services will no longer have an occupancy limit, but social distancing remains a requirement. The previous occupancy limit was 50 percent capacity.
- Bars and restaurants can go from 50 percent capacity to 75 percent capacity, up to a limit of 250 people, and tables must remain six feet apart. The limits to indoor and outdoor capacity are considered separate, and parties of up to four can sit at bars. Establishments must continue to close by 11 p.m. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said the closing time was tied to data about when restaurant and bar outbreaks are likely to occur.
- Salons and barbers will no longer have occupancy limits, but social distancing will be required. Occupancy limits were previously set at 50 percent capacity.
- Gyms, fitness centers and pools can go from 25 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity. Outdoor classes will have a new limit of 50 people.
- Entertainment venues can go from 25 percent capacity to 50 percent capacity, indoors and outdoors, up to 250 people.
Grove said Friday that the DEED will release a calculator to help venues determine their capacity under the new guidelines.
On Friday, Walz sounded buoyant about what the loosened guidelines mean for sports. “Wonderwall will be there, a little bit social distanced, but fans are back in the stadiums,” he said, referencing a standing room-only part of the Allianz Field soccer stadium. The Star Tribune has more on capacity in sports stadiums here.
Starting Monday, large venues will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, for up to 250 people. Social distancing remains a requirement. Venues with capacity of over 500 under normal conditions can add more guests starting April 1, per the following:
- Seated outdoor venues can have an extra 25 percent of their capacity over 500, limited at 10,000 people.
- Non-seated outdoor venues can have an extra 15 percent of their capacity over 500, limited to 10,000 people.
- Seated indoor venues can have an extra 15 percent of their capacity of 500, limited at 3,000 people.
- Non-seated indoor venues can have an extra 10 percent of their capacity over 500, limited to 1,500 people.
As of April 15, working from home will no longer be required “but it will continue to be strongly recommended,” the statement says. It encourages employers to accommodate workers who want to continue working from home.
The Walz administration urged Minnestoans to remain cautious and continue to wear masks, particularly in the face of more-infectious variants now circulating. On Thursday, the state announced its first detected case of the more-infectious variant first detected in South Africa. Minnesota has also confirmed clusters of the more-infectious U.K. strain and had the country’s first case of the Brazil variant.
Walz planned to announce the changes and hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Friday. MinnPost will update this story after that.
So far, 1.16 million Minneotans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Walz said that Minnesota could vaccinate an additional 700,000 people by the end of the month.
He said he expects all Minnestoans to be made eligible for a vaccine by May 1, the day President Joe Biden announced Thursday night should be states’ goal.
“It’s going to be weeks, not months, before all of you are going to get the opportunity to get a shot. Please take it. Plase roll up your sleeve and take these shots,” Walz said.
He said he expects more frequent changes to COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, assuming the numbers continue to look good.
He also said he will extend his declaration of a peacetime emergency for another 30 days on Monday when the current order expires.
Reactions to the announcement
On Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) called on Walz to end his emergency powers and move things further back to normal.
“A number of states have started ending their emergency powers, over a dozen states no longer have a mask mandate, there is definite movement toward back to normal. We renew our demand that the governor remove his emergency powers so that we can work together, hand-in-hand,” he said.
House Republicans praised the loosening of restrictions in a Zoom press conference Friday morning, but called on Walz to announce changes sooner in the future so businesses can plan ahead.
“Good days are ahead, I think we can start saying to Minnesotans we are starting to live again,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar).
Baker noted that Republicans had been calling on Walz to open things up further, and also suggested the governor include the Legislature in future planning.
“I urge you to tell us in 30 days if we double the immunizations, if we are going in that right direction, can we count on an earlier announcement of what, then, it might look like for other events,” he said.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars and restaurants that serve alcohol and liquor stores, likewise argued Walz should lay out a plan that includes health-based metric and dates. The association also criticized the capacity increase from 50 percent to 75 percent in bars and restaurants.
“[The increase] is only helpful to a small handful of larger establishments, as most bars and restaurant’s capacity is already capped at a much lower percentage due to distancing rules,” a statement said.