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The daily coronavirus update: Minnesota to allow indoor dining; gyms and theaters to reopen at limited capacity

Walz’s latest order goes further in easing rules aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 than state officials had previously predicted.

Photo: CDC/Alissa Eckert

For the foreseeable future, MinnPost will be providing daily updates on coronavirus in Minnesota, published following the press phone call with members of the Walz administration each afternoon.

Here are the latest updates from June 5, 2020:

Walz to allow indoor dining, small social gatherings

Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that bars, restaurants, fitness centers and theaters can provide indoor services with limited capacity starting Wednesday, lifting many of the state’s restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The governor also said people could hold small gatherings of up to 10 people in their homes, and said religious services could operate with more people.

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The governor’s metaphorical turn of the dials went further to ease pandemic rules than state officials had previously predicted and came after thousands of protesters flooded Twin Cities streets, raising the risk of widespread infection. But Walz said if the state were to “go by optimal health suggestions and requirements to us” then “no state would have met those requirements.”

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Gov. Tim Walz
“I have said all along, you have to take the health requirements but you also have to take the well-being and you have to take the economic requirements,” Walz said.

Bars and restaurants have been limited to takeout and delivery (and, as of June 1, outdoor dining) as government officials said the prolonged contact that comes with indoor interaction posed infection risks. Starting June 10, under an executive order signed by Walz Friday, bars and restaurants can open for indoor dining at 50 percent of capacity as determined by the fire marshall. The same is true for salons, barbershops and religious services. Reservations will still be required for bars, restaurants, salons and barbers, and there will be limits to the number of people at each table in bars and restaurants.

Gyms and theaters and other indoor entertainment like bowling alleys will also be allowed to open at 25 percent capacity.

The governor said that starting Wednesday people can also hold small indoor social gatherings with 10 people or less, and outdoor social gatherings with 25 people or less. (Restaurants, bars, and other business ventures still have a maximum gathering limit of 250 people inside and outside.)

Also allowed by the governor: playing sports, as long as they’re deemed low risk, like tennis, and adhere to the 25-person outdoor limit and social distancing rules. High-risk sports competitions, like basketball, are still banned, though Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said people could practice those sports while social distancing.

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Under the new rules, people will be able to hold indoor weddings and funerals at 50 percent capacity of a space, and they can have outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people. 

The executive order requires people to social distance at weddings, funerals, bars, restaurants, and more. 

Gazelka: Walz should lift all mandates and restrictions ‘immediately’

While Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka agreed with the next phase of reopening, he said at a press availability Friday that it doesn’t go far enough. In fact, Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake who’s the highest-ranking Republican in state government, said Walz should lift all restrictions in Minnesota.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
“The pandemic fear must end,” he said. “We cannot be making all of these dramatic decisions for the entire state of Minnesota when we know that it’s primarily for seniors, primarily in nursing homes that we have to protect.

“The governor must immediately lift all mandates and restrictions,” Gazelka said, including those on schools and large gatherings. “I think it’s time for the state of Minnesota to stop mandating what’s open and what’s not open. Let individuals decide for themselves how to keep safe.” Gazelka said. 

He noted that of the 1,148 deaths from COVID-19, 219 have been outside long-term care facilities. “Think about what we have done to the state of Minnesota — all the restrictions, all the mandates to school and to businesses and to churches and to weddings — and how many lives have been impacted by that. Two hundred and nineteen deaths, all of them important, but think of the decisions that were made.”

26,980 confirmed cases; 1,148 deaths 

At its daily briefing Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health said 33 more Minnesotans have died of COVID-19, for a total of 1,148. 

Of the deaths announced Friday, one person was over age 100, twelve were in their nineties, ten in their eighties, four in their seventies, four in their sixties and two in their fifties. Twenty-six of the 33 were residents of long-term care facilities.

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Of the 1,148 deaths in Minnesota, 922 have been among residents of long-term care.

The current death toll only includes Minnesotans with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests. MDH also said Friday there have been 26,980 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, up 707 from Thursday’s count. 

Since the start of the outbreak, 3,289 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and 478 are currently in the hospital, 220 in intensive care. You can find more information about Minnesota’s current ICU usage and capacity here.

Of the 26,980 confirmed positive cases in Minnesota, 21,864 no longer need to be isolated, which means they are believed to have recovered.

A total of 322,340 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Minnesota.

More information on cases can be found here.

Cases seem to plateau

As the administration announced new opening measures, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Minnesota appears to have reached somewhat of a plateau in the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state, with some small waves of increases within it.

Jan Malcolm
MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
Jan Malcolm
Whereas the number of cases was increasing exponentially in the second half of April, the increase now appears to be leveling off, she said. She cautioned, however, that the effects of recent events on case numbers won’t be known for two to three weeks.

Malcolm said she can’t forecast whether Minnesota will see a rise in cases towards a bigger peak, a continued plateau, or a sustained decline. She said she doesn’t expect to see a sustained decline, but it’s happened in other places where it wasn’t expected. The shape of the virus’ spread has looked different in different places.

Malcolm said the state would be closely watching several measures to determine whether Minnesota will need to reinstate restrictions due to the threat of more cases. In the long-term, she expects ongoing high levels of transmission for months to come, until the state reaches herd immunity or a vaccine is available.

“Something changed between April and May. We’re in a more stable situation at the present. We believe it’s, I would say more likely than not, that we will stay in a situation where we’re going to continue to have a fair degree of COVID in the community for quite some time to come which is why a sustainable strategy of openings of society coupled with some really vigilant public health measures is what we’ve landed on,” Malcolm said.

State looks to feds to pay for unemployment insurance

Commissioner Steve Grove said Friday that Minnesota will draw from federal funds to pay for Minnesotans’ unemployment insurance. 

Commissioner Steve Grove
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Commissioner Steve Grove
Despite projections earlier in the pandemic that the state trust fund would be able to sustain Minnesotans for a significant amount of time, Grove said Friday the pace of spending on unemployment benefits means the state trust fund is expected to have a negative balance in early July.

He said switching to federal funds won’t change the amount of benefits or the speed at which Minnesotans get them. Many states have already transitioned to federal unemployment and Grove said all are expected to do so by the end of the pandemic.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, Minnesota drew from federal unemployment funds once it spent down its funds and paid off the federal government by 2012. The loan from the federal government will be interest-free until the end of the year.

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