Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday that beginning June 1 bars and restaurants can serve customers outdoors, while barbers and salons can operate indoors at partial capacity — if patrons wear masks.
The announcement was the governor’s latest step to relax restrictions on public life meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, which health officials say has killed 777 Minnesotans since mid-March amid the lockdown on businesses and travel.
Walz has allowed many businesses, including retail stores and malls, to reopen under a set of rules and guidelines. Yet bars, restaurants, gyms, salons, theaters are among those that have remained closed to in-house customers.
Not all of those businesses, deemed “public accommodations,” received a green light to open on Wednesday. And the Walz administration gave no timeline for when gyms and theaters can resume indoor services. The same is true for large in-person religious services. But the governor did lay out what a partial reopening might be like for businesses and houses of worship that remain closed.
Walz said his guidelines — which he termed “maddeningly complex” — are not the impediment to reopening businesses, they are the keys to reopening. “Minnesotans are going to be able to get back out there and try and make sure we’re supporting these local businesses,” Walz said. “While it’s not perfect, it’s safe and it’s moving the dial.”
Here’s what you need to know about the latest announcement:
What is the justification for the governor’s new guidance?
The state has maintained COVID-19 is more likely to spread the longer people are near each other, and the closer people are to each other. Sitting at an indoor restaurant for an hour is riskier than briefly shopping at a store, state officials say.
In keeping with that, state officials said outdoor service is less dangerous. Steve Grove, the commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said there is inherent risk when people sweat and breathe heavily in a gym, or sing together at a church.
Though he acknowledged there are few, if any, “outdoor barbers,” which prompted the administration’s decision to allow indoor services.
“We have clear evidence from health experts that outdoor settings are a lot safer than indoor settings,” Grove said.
Bars and restaurants can open outdoors
Starting June 1, bars and restaurants will be able to open outdoor space but not serve customers indoors. Tables at outdoor patios must allow at least 6 feet of space between customers and tables can only serve four people — or six if the people are all part of “one family unit.”
Reservations will be required, and workers will have to wear masks. Customers will be encouraged to wear masks. No more than 50 people can be on a business premise at any time.
While not every business has a patio or outdoor space, Grove said restaurants and bars should get creative with in partnership with cities and local governments to use sidewalks or parking spaces.
Grove said eventually, in the next reopening phase, some indoor service will be allowed.
Barbers and salons (and tattoo parlors) will operate with limitations
The state will now allow “personal care services” — which includes hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors — to open starting June 1.
But those businesses will have to implement a COVID-19 plan to mitigate risk and limit the number of clients on their premises at any time. Customers will have to be at least 6 feet apart from others (except when, say, getting a haircut) and businesses can allow inside only 25 percent of capacity as outlined in the fire code.
Like bars and restaurants, walk-in service is banned, and both customers and workers have to wear masks at all times. If a service can’t be done without a mask, it’s not allowed.
What remains closed
It’s unclear when large religious services, gyms, theaters and crowds at sporting events can resume.
But “Phase 3” for reopening, the next round of relaxed restrictions, may include gyms, outdoor concerts and movies, with limitations on the number of people involved. In Phase 3, outdoor religious services with up to 100 people will be allowed if everyone involved wears masks and can maintain 6 feet of social distancing. (Until Phase 3, people can gather in groups of 10 or fewer indoors or outdoors for religious services.) Grove, the DEED commissioner, said there will be even more restrictions, including on singing.
Grove said singing is “one of the worst things you can do,” because it can project infectious particles further into the air than talking. After a choir practice with one symptomatic person in Washington state, 87 percent of those who attended developed COVID-19.
Bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades and other theaters will remain closed under Phase 3, but may open under Phase 4. Grove said there are no dates for when those phases begin, though “the governor wants to move as quickly as we can.”
Campgrounds to open, too
While Walz had opened dispersed and remote camping around the state, other campgrounds, including campgrounds at state parks, remained closed until at least May 31. The guidance announced Wednesday says all campgrounds can open, with some restrictions, beginning June 1.
Reactions to Walz’s latest order
Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature pushed back against ongoing restrictions on churches. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he hopes federal courts will intervene to reverse the limitations and said he is “growing more concerned there is a targeted effort to keep churches closed and keep people away from their house of worship for no good reason.”
Two Minnesota churches are suing Walz over his ban on large religious services. “I see no reason why churches are any more dangerous a place for coronavirus transmission than Walmart or a mall,” Gazelka said.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, questioned if there was scientific justification for allowing indoor salon services, but not indoor restaurant service. “Outdoor seating at bars and restaurants should begin immediately — we need to trust our businesses to protect the health and safety of employees and customers,” he said.
Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, expressed frustration with Walz, which is notable because the organization has mostly aligned with the governor’s plans to reopen the economy. Loon called for a timetable on when other restrictions will be relaxed and said the governor’s announcement “doesn’t sufficiently recognize the ability of businesses – many of them small businesses – to innovate and protect employees and customers.”
Hospitality Minnesota, a trade association that represents restaurants, said in a written statement from the organization’s CEO, Liz Rammer, that Walz’s guidance would be a “disastrous setback” for restaurants that can’t host customers outdoors.
Many restaurants have begun to hire back staff and order products to reopen June 1, Rammer’s statement says. The industry group called for a “targeted relief package” from the state. “As these businesses stare in to the face financial collapse, today’s announcement further delays the incoming revenue these small businesses need to survive.”
Peter Callaghan contributed to this report.