Walz announces major rollback of COVID-19 restrictions
By MOHAMED IBRAHIM Associated Press/Report for America
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced he is easing several coronavirus restrictions, citing rising vaccinations and declining COVID-19 cases.
“I’m here to tell you that we’re winning. We’re winning, and this thing is coming to an end,” Walz said in a livestreamed announcement. “Today is the day that a lot of things are going to start to change that you’re going to notice.”
Starting at noon on Monday, religious services will no longer have occupancy limits, though social distancing will still be required. Gathering limits will increase to 50 people outside and 15 people indoors with no household limits. Pod sizes for outdoor youth sports can increase to up to 50 people.
Bar and restaurant capacity will also go up to 75% with a limit of 250 people and bar seating for parties of four. Capacity for gyms, fitness centers and pools increases to 50%. There will be no occupancy limits for hair salons and barbershops.
Entertainment venues will be able to open at 50% capacity with a limit of 250 people.
Starting April 1, larger venues with normal capacities over 500 can allow up to 3,000 people for seated indoor venues and 1,500 people for non-seated indoor venues. The limit for large seated and non-seated outdoor venues is 10,000 people, meaning the Twins will be able to welcome fans for the baseball team’s home opener on April 8.
“We will announce next steps, including our full ballpark protocols and ticket plans, in the very near future,” the team said in a statement.
Beginning April 15, the state will lift its work-from-home requirement, though it will still be recommended.
Nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans and more than 70% of people ages 65 and older have received at least one shot of coronavirus vaccine, and state officials say 40,000 shots are being administered every day statewide. Walz said Friday that all Minnesotans will be in line for the vaccine before President Biden’s target date of May 1.
While optimistic about the pace of vaccinations, Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm urged caution in the coming weeks over more infectious virus variants.
“As we do have variants in Minnesota, we’re going to see how that translates to perhaps increased cases in the hospital and so forth,” Malcolm said. “It’s really up to us, all of us, to keep doing these prevention measures so we don’t see a lot more cases going into the hospital so we can continue to move forward and turn the dial safely as we all work hard to get Minnesotans vaccinated just as quickly as possible.”
Minnesota House Republicans and hospitality industry groups urged the governor to create a plan to fully reopen businesses statewide. GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, said in a statement that the state must consider ending the governor’s emergency powers.
“It’s clear based on today’s announcement that the emergency phase is over, and we need to talk seriously about how we’re going to end the Governor’s emergency powers as the vaccination rollout continues and our case counts, ICU usage, and case positivity rates decline,” Daudt said. “The Governor should work with us to set clear timelines or metrics for the final dial turn if numbers continue improving so Minnesota businesses have a transparent view when they can expect the next announcement.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.