MN COVID-19 restrictions: Gov. Walz closes bars, restaurants, prohibits social gatherings
ST. PAUL — Beginning Friday, Minnesotans will see social gatherings, sports and in-person dining at bars and restaurants paused for four weeks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday night that in-person social gatherings with people outside your household are prohibited, and bars and restaurants will only be allowed to do take-out and delivery service.
Gyms, fitness centers, entertainment and event spaces will close, and adult and youth sports will be paused. But retail businesses, salons and places of worship may continue to operate with proper precautions in place.
"Just to be clear, no one thinks that this is easy," Walz said. "No one thinks that this is fair."
Walz said the new restrictions — which take effect 11:59 p.m. Friday and go until Dec. 18 — will ensure hospitals can treat those who need it.
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Sports on hold, school on track
"There's going to be obstacles," said Cathedral boys hockey coach Derrick Brown. "We don't know what those obstacles are going to be … We've really preached to the guys that there's obstacles, but there's opportunities within each of those obstacles."
Adult and youth sports are paused, according to the order. Organizations and programs must stop all in-person activities — including practices, group workouts, games and tournaments, including outdoor sports like football and soccer.
"It isn't the end of the world," said ROCORI activities director Joel Baumgarten. "They realize this is just a different year and we have to be flexible. Are they sad? Yes. Am I sad? Yes. But at the same time understand and willing to adjust."
Even with school sports on hold, classes will continue. Schools will continue to operate under the Safe Learning Plan, which shifts between in-person, distance and hybrid learning depending on the local conditions of the virus.
'On the verge of dangerous capacity shortages'
On Wednesday, the state surpassed 3,000 Minnesotans lost to COVID-19.
"We are at a critical point," Walz said.
In the spring, the governor enacted a shutdown to help slow the spread of the virus and build up capacity in the health care system.
"It made all the difference in the world to quite literally hundreds if not thousands of Minnesotans," Walz said.
"We did keep the spread flat, and we did protect and save lives," Walz said. But that extra capacity is now being put the test with a surge in new infections, according to Walz, and is not sustainable.
Hospitals are "on the verge of dangerous capacity shortages," according to Walz, and some hospitals have already turned away new patients.
Frontline workers are getting sick through community spread, jeopardizing care for those who need it.
"While these actions mean incredible hardship for many, they are the fastest way to recover our economy, keep our kids in school, and get back to the activities we love,” Walz said in a release.
Walz thanked health care systems and workers, and stressed the need to preserve frontline workers.
Dr. Kenneth Holmen, CentraCare president and CEO, said turning the dial back is not what anyone wants in normal times.
"We have reached a critical moment when everyone – not just health care workers – must come together to help each other move through the tough days ahead," Holmen said in a release. "Addressing this critical problem will hasten what everyone is looking for – a new day full of promise as the vaccine is rolled out. Coming together to solve big problems is what we do when we are at our best.”
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Why 4 weeks?
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said a full four weeks allows for two cycles of incubation periods and gives time for officials to measure impact.
"Things really did move quickly between last week and this week," Malcolm said.
In the last two weeks, the state has seen an 80% increase in hospital admissions, according to Malcolm.
Last week, there was a daily average of 220 admissions each day. Minnesota is at 15.3% test positivity rate, according to Malcolm.
What happens in the next two weeks has already been set by previous actions, Malcolm said, and some people who are already sick will end up in the hospital. The state hopes to see a positive impact from the new restrictions in 3-4 weeks.
Officials will look at how many cases the state has per day per 100,000 people as well as if the test positivity rate stabilizes or declines.
Hospitality industry takes second hit
In response to the new restrictions, Tony Chesak, Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association executive director, said the decision will mean increased unemployment and further loss of dining businesses.
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“Today’s news is heartbreaking, and the impact will be devastating," Chesak said in a release.
"Bars and restaurant leaders and staff are heading into a bleak holiday season with little to no support from our elected leaders," according to Chesak. "The state and federal government both need to take steps to aid employees and the hospitality industry with relaxed regulations, direct financial support, unemployment assistance, and loans to get through this dark winter."
Chesak also encouraged Minnesotans to support small businesses by purchasing takeout and gift cards whenever possible.
Walz also encouraged Minnesotans to purchase takeout when possible.
"We need federal support to help keep our businesses afloat, our workers paid, and our families with food on the table," Walz said in the release. "I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for that support that you need and deserve.”
Reporter Brian Mozey contributed to this report.
Clairissa Baker is the public safety watchdog reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8740 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClairissaBaker.
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