A year after lockdowns, uncertainty, Walz set to give timeline for ending COVID-19 restrictions

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As millions of Minnesotans get vaccinated, Gov. Tim Walz is making plans to get back to "business as usual." He is expected to announce a timeline to end COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday.

“We are going to potentially by June have 70% of our people 12 or 16 and above — whichever are authorized by CDC — vaccinated, and that changes the entire calculus,” Walz said earlier this week. “I think Minnesotans should start assuming they’re going to have a very normal-looking summer.”

Just over a year ago, Minnesota was under a stay-at-home order. Health care workers were dealing with growing hospitalizations and personal protective equipment supply shortages. Last May, the timeline for a vaccine was also unclear.

"I cannot tell you exactly when a vaccine will be approved and considered safe," Dr. Michael Osterholm said on May 5, 2020. He’s the director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Twelve months later, more than 2 million Minnesotans have completed their vaccine series. Nearly 60% of eligible Minnesotans have received at least one dose.

Gyms are operating at 50% capacity and restaurants are open at 75% capacity. Employees can also go back into the office due to the loosening of restrictions.

At noon Thursday, Walz is expected to announce "… a timeline to end all COVID-19 restrictions while doubling down on vaccination efforts."

Dr. Kevin Best, vice president of medical operations for primary care for Allina Health, said he’s interested to learn the details of the announcement.

“I would say I would be fully in favor of anything that could nudge people towards considering get vaccinated and maybe if there’s a little bit of a carrot out there that will maybe help people to really give it some thought to make a good decision for their own health,” Best said.

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the vaccine is one reason the latest wave of the virus, fueled by the variants, wasn’t worse.

Hospitalizations rose in March and April, but MDH data now shows a downward trend.

“It looks like we’re getting to the end of the peak of this most recent wave and we’ve seen declining positivity rates for the past several weeks in a row, which is encouraging,” Best said.

Even with progress, there were still 1,267 newly reported cases on Wednesday and 17 deaths.

“Especially those that are not vaccinated, there is, unfortunately, a much higher risk of potentially needing to get hospitalized or potentially dying from COVID than from many other types of virus infections we’ve seen in the past,” Best said. “If we can agree we want to get back to a normal life, I think that getting vaccinated is the way to make that happen as soon as possible.”