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Walz sets timeline to end COVID restrictions

Local business owners pleased with governor’s announcement, but still face challenges

MARSHALL — The end is in sight for Minnesota’s COVID-19 restrictions, and how quickly it comes will depend partly on how fast Minnesotans get vaccinated for the virus, Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday.

Walz unveiled a three-step plan for ending limits on outdoor and indoor gatherings, bar and restaurant restrictions, and the state mask mandate. The end of mask requirements will come by July 1, or as soon as 70% of eligible Minnesotans are vaccinated.

“We can make it happen,” Walz said Thursday. He noted that Minnesota is only about 473,000 doses away from having 70% vaccination.

Most of the restrictions affecting local businesses like bars and restaurants will be gone by the end of the month. But while it’s a positive thing, some local businesspeople said it’s not likely to have a big immediate impact for them.

“I think it will all help,” but some of Walz’s announcement was hype, said Tom Handeland, owner of the Hitching Post in Marshall. “He should immediately lift it and say enough is enough.”

Walz went over the plans to end COVID-19 restrictions during a press conference Thursday afternoon. Walz said the 70% vaccination goal was a workable one for Minnesota to stop wearing face masks before July 1.

Other parts of the plan will start sooner. Starting at noon today, early closing times for bars and restaurants are lifted, and groups of up to 10 people can be seated at a table together. There will also no longer be size limits on outdoor events or gatherings, although face masks will be required at large venues with more than 500 people.

Restrictions on indoor gatherings and restaurant capacity will end on May 28, although businesses must keep their COVID safety plans in place under state guidance. The Safe Learning Plan for schools will continue through the end of the school year.

On Thursday, Handeland said having an end to COVID restrictions would be positive, but the early steps wouldn’t really affect his business. Later closing times would be something that will impact bars more than restaurants, he said.

“I don’t know if there’s really going to be much impact,” said Wooden Nickel manager Tim Clausen. While bars and restaurants would be gradually going back to full capacity, Clausen said that might affect customers more than businesses. He said he didn’t see the end of some impacts of the pandemic, like challenges with prices, shortages and labor. “There are too many other things going on that we’re not getting help on.”

A definite COVID reopening plan is something Minnesota businesses had been seeking for a long time, said Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Gruhot. Business advocates in greater Minnesota have had bi-weekly calls with Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, for the past eight or nine months.

“The business community has been adamant about having a reopening plan statewide, especially for bordering communities like ours,” Gruhot said. Competition from South Dakota businesses during the pandemic was a problem for the hospitality industry and other businesses in southwest Minnesota.

“We wanted to be open by the beginning of summer, even as early as May 1 following Rep. Dave Baker’s plan,” Gruhot said.

Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said Thursday the reopening plan “is good news on a couple fronts.” Byrnes said it’s encouraging to know that vaccination rates and efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have made reopening possible. Being able to lift restrictions will also help the local economy, and allow for a return to more normal events and gatherings.

With the end of COVID restrictions in sight in Minnesota, the important thing for the public will be to make sure they get vaccinated for COVID-19, said Carol Biren, ?? at Southwest Health and Human Services.

“That’s the main message as we head into the summer, to keep everybody safe,” Biren said. Vaccines are available through several different pharmacies and medical providers around the Marshall region, she said. In addition to getting vaccinated, it remains important for people to take health precautions like washing their hands often, and staying home if they are sick.

Governor’s timeline

May 7:

• No limits/masks for outdoor events, except masks at large venues with over 500 people.

• No early bar and restaurant closing time.

May 28:

• Remaining limits end, including restrictions on indoor events expect when there are more than 500 people.

• Capacity restrictions end but businesses must have a safety plan guided by a universal state guidance document.

July 1 or earlier:

• Statewide masking mandate dropped no later than July 1, but earlier if we reach 70% vaccination.

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