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New MDH guidelines allow bigger groups at bars, restaurants

MARSHALL — It’s not a return to full capacity, but new state guidance is loosening some of its restrictions on restaurants and bars.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health rolled out updated guidelines that allow bigger groups of people to be seated together in dining areas.

While dancing and karaoke are still not allowed, the MDH did give updated COVID-19 safety recommendations for live music, and for dancing at special events and celebrations.

The new MDH guidance didn’t change the number of people allowed in bars or restaurants at a time. Businesses are still limited to 50% capacity, with a maximum number of 250 people indoors. Tables must still be spaced at least six feet apart. However, in dining rooms customers may now sit in parties of up to 10 people. The original limit was four people, or up to six members of the same family.

The new guidelines also say parties of up to four people are allowed to sit together in bar areas.

Live music will be allowed at bars and restaurants, but the new guidelines say performers must maintain social distance between themselves, and they have to be at least 12 feet away from audience members or patrons.

Under the new guidance, dancing, karaoke and open-mic events are still not allowed at bars and restaurants that are open for regular food and beverage service. Activities like dancing have a higher risk of spreading COVID-19, because physical exertion can lead to heavier breathing, the MDH said.

However, on Thursday the MDH did release new safety guidelines for dancing at special events or celebrations hosted by a business. Precautions for dancing at special events include wearing face coverings, limiting the number of people on the dance floor or encouraging styles of dancing like line dances, where it’s easier to keep social distance.

The MDH reported a total of 1,401 new cases of COVID-19 in the state on Friday, including eight new cases among Lyon County residents. On Oct. 8, there were 338 hospital beds statewide in use for COVID-19 patients, and 133 intensive care beds, according to data from the state’s COVID-19 response capacity dashboard.

Overall, Minnesota has had a total of 109,312 positive cases of COVID-19, and 2,121 deaths.

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