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Walz loosens COVID restrictions on restaurants, gyms and more

MARSHALL — It wasn’t a full return to normal. But under new guidance from Gov. Tim Walz, businesses like bars and restaurants will be able to return to indoor service at half-capacity next week.

While he was disappointed that bars restaurants would still have to close at 10 p.m., “I’m glad to see we can open the doors again,” said Dan Fosvick, owner of Fuzzy’s Bar in Marshall. “At least we’ll be able to pay bills.”

On Wednesday Walz announced he would be loosening restrictions on businesses ranging from restaurants to gyms and movie theaters. The new guidance takes effect Jan. 11.

Walz said the change came partly in response to falling rates of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Case numbers are approaching the levels they were before a November surge, and hospital capacities in the state are looking better, Walz said.

“The situation in Minnesota is undeniably better than it was last month,” Governor Walz said in a statement Wednesday. “We have reasons to be optimistic, and Minnesotans’ sacrifice and commitment to their communities helped change the pandemic’s trajectory and saved lives. But we need to protect the progress we’ve made.”

The looser restrictions take Minnesota bars and restaurants back to where they were in early November. Those businesses can offer indoor dining and bar service at 50% capacity, with a maximum of 150 people. Reservations and social distancing will be required, and dine-in service must close by 10 p.m.

Fosvick said he had been hoping for a 1 a.m. closing time — many bar customers tend to come in later at night. However, one change in the restrictions that would be positive for businesses like Fuzzy’s was that a limited number of people are now allowed to sit at the bar, instead of only at tables.

“Not having people at the bar was very tough,” he said.

Advocates for Minnesota bars and restaurants said the move to re-open for indoor service was a step forward.

“As the numbers in Minnesota have been trending very favorably for a dial turn to the right, we appreciate Governor Walz recognizing how seriously our bars and restaurants are taking the pandemic and that keeping our customers and staff members safe is a top priority by turning the dial for indoor dining and service,” Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said in a statement Wednesday. Chesak said the MLBA would continue to work with Walz and the state legislature on relief for struggling businesses.

In addition to looser restrictions on bars and restaurants, indoor entertainment venues, including movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums can re-open at 25% capacity. Gyms can now allow up to a maximum of 150 people, and in-person exercise classes can increase to 25 members if distancing can be maintained.

The new guidance also brings back youth and adult organized sports. Practices resumed Jan. 4, and games with spectators will resume Jan. 14, with capacity limits. For now, inter-region tournaments and out-of-state play are being discouraged.

The return of youth sports has been a positive announcement for area school athletes.

“We’re excited to see our students back in the building this week,” said Marshall Public Schools Activities Director Bruce Remme. Sports practices began at Marshall High School this week, and Remme said it was good to see that students will have a chance to have their winter sports season. “We’re excited for the opportunity they are going to have.”

Remme said for now, COVID-19 safety protocols are going to be the same as earlier in the year, with athletes required to distance and wear masks on the sidelines, and a limit of two spectators per player.

While COVID-19 cases in Minnesota were down from November’s surge, Walz said there is still need for precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing. Otherwise, he said, “It can get out of hand pretty quickly.” Following hygiene and social distancing practices helps schools and businesses stay open he said.

On Wednesday, Minnesota reported 2,346 new cases statewide, and 67 deaths. The newly reported deaths included one person in their 80s from Pipestone County, and one person in their 80s from Redwood County.

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