UPDATE: Citing progress from recent restrictions over Thanksgiving, Gov. Walz eases restrictions in time for holidays
Gov. Tim Walz announced his plan to loosen some COVID-19 restrictions, which would include a prioritization of in-person learning at elementary schools, allowing limited capacity outdoor dining at bars and restaurants, limited capacity at fitness centers and limited holiday gatherings.
"We’re going to support students and families, we’re going to continue the effort to slow the risk of spread and we’re going to protect our hospitals," Walz said while addressing the media Wednesday. "That is what this is meant to do."
According to the governor’s office, beginning Jan. 18, 2021, elementary schools in the state may choose to operate in an in-person learning model.
Schools that choose to do so must implement virus mitigation strategies.
While indoor dining will remain closed, the governor announced bars and restaurants will be allowed to open outdoor seating starting Saturday.
At that time, they can open to 50% capacity, with 100 people at the maximum, and four people per table, all seated.
In regards to gathering, Minnesotans may gather inside with one other household, with 10 people at the most. While indoor gatherings are allowed, they are not suggested, according to the governor’s office.
Outdoor gatherings may include up to two additional households, with 15 people at the maximum. During any gathering, masks and social distancing are encouraged.
The new rule on gatherings also goes into effect Saturday.
Additionally, health clubs are also set to reopen at 25% capacity with 100 people at the maximum, beginning Saturday.
Masks will be required at all times inside those gyms and fitness centers, with 12 feet of social distancing required between people.
Group fitness classes won’t be allowed until Jan. 4. Pools will remain closed.
The governor also announced that youth and high school sports will continue on Jan. 4 with practices only.
"While we recognize that our students, coaches and families are anxious to return to activities and athletics, the Jan. 4, 2021, date aligns well with many member schools’ calendars as they return from extended breaks," Minnesota State High School League Executive Director Erich Martens said. "This opportunity to participate in athletics and activities also comes with great responsibility. It is critical that all students, coaches, directors and officials maintain the highest standard of health and safety, both in and outside of school. Everyone must actively share the responsibility of reducing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping themselves and others safe and healthy."
Outdoor recreation, like public skating rinks, will be allowed to open as well, with capacity limited to 25%, up to 100 people.
While some restrictions are being lifted, Walz there continues to be concerns about community spread and hospital capacity.
"We’re keeping our hands on the dial," Walz said. "We are not out of the woods. You need to continue to do those basic things and the reason for it is we cannot overwhelm the health care system."
The governor also said he understands the frustrations of Minnesota bar and restaurant owners.
"There is nothing fair about COVID-19 and where it impacts certain industries more than others it feels incredibly painful to those industries because it is," he said. "And we need to make sure and I’m proud to say and we’re going to talk that in a little bit. If we’re going to ask folks to sacrifice in the name of public health for their neighbors then we as neighbors need to be prepared to help them and that’s what the legislature did this week in a nearly quarter billion dollar package of relief specifically aimed at small businesses and the hospitality industry."
Just before making those comments, Walz signed into law $216 million that will support small businesses and workers affected by the pandemic. That includes $88 million in direct payment to restaurants, bars and gyms; $14 million for convention centers and movie theaters; and $115 million for "economically significant businesses."
"To those businesses, this does no way make you whole but this is a part of what we’ve done every time in this country when we’ve asked people to step back and sacrifice," the governor said.
The in-person dining shutdown was originally set to expire on Friday.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm also responded to a question about how Wisconsin also has a trend of lower COVID numbers without imposing any statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants.
"It is hard to answer some of those questions about why is this state different than that state," Malcolm said. "We do know in Wisconsin some of the larger localities have imposed their own restrictions. It’s not the case that there’s no restrictions in Wisconsin."
There are capacity restrictions on indoor service in Wisconsin bars and restaurants in Hudson, Milwaukee, Racine and Madison, but no statewide ban on indoor service.
DEVELOPING: Bundle up MN Bars/restaurants will be allowed to open outdoor seating starting Saturday. 50% capacity/100 people max/4 people per table all seated. Indoor seating not allowed at least through 1/10. Gov. Walz will announce at 1:15. Briefings happening now. pic.twitter.com/WAMDkXxYHe— Tom Hauser (@thauserkstp) December 16, 2020
DEVELOPING: Holiday/Christmas gatherings in MN will be allowed to include people from up to 3 households to maximum of 15 people, according to sources briefed by the governor.— Tom Hauser (@thauserkstp) December 16, 2020
Additionally, Hauser reports state health clubs are also set to reopen, at 25% capacity with 100 people at the maximum, starting Saturday.
DEVELOPING: MN health clubs will also reopen Saturday at 25% capacity with 100 people maximum. Masks required at all times. 12-feet of social distancing. No group fitness classes until January 4th. Pools also remain closed. pic.twitter.com/bsfNjYNcXh— Tom Hauser (@thauserkstp) December 16, 2020
DEVELOPING: Youth and high school sports will resume Jan. 4th with practices only. It has not been determined when games will be allowed. Discussion to begin soon with MN State High School League and others. pic.twitter.com/jtuRiFMItu— Tom Hauser (@thauserkstp) December 16, 2020