MN officials allow larger dining groups in restaurants, as COVID cases continue to rise

A man speaking at a podium.
DEED Commissioner Steve Grove speaks at a press conference inside the Department of Public Safety in St. Paul on April 30. Grove said Thursday that upping per-table limits for dining parties is a "small tweak" that should help the restaurant industry in the state.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: 7 p.m.

Minnesota officials have loosened some key restrictions involving restaurants and specified how many spectators may attend indoor high school games.

The Minnesota Department of Health rolled out new guidelines, updating previous instructions for the hospitality industry to limit the spread of COVID-19. The changes include:

  • Per-table limits for dining parties rise to 10. The limit had been four, with up to six from a single household

  • Dancing is still discouraged, but health officials listed ways to potentially limit spread such as wearing masks and restricting the number of people on the dance floor.

Steve Grove, the commissioner of Minnesota’s Employment and Economic Development Department, said the change is a “just a small tweak that in consultation with industry, we think makes sense."

"Our epidemiologists and our Health Department looked at this. They said this isn't one of those things that we think is going to make a major difference in the state of the virus today,” Grove said.

Hospitality Minnesota President Liz Rammer said the move gives restaurant owners more flexibility as the weather gets cooler.

“We hope that mother nature will bless us with a long outdoor patio season. That would help us a lot. But we can’t count on that, and so we’re grateful that the governor’s able to help us make this move forward and it will be a big benefit to many of these operators and help them have some renewed hope,” Rammer said.

While the number of customers allowed at each table is larger, groups in bars are still limited to four people, and nothing has changed with occupancy levels. It’s still half-capacity for up to 250 people for bars and restaurants.

Also on Thursday, the Minnesota State High School League issued new guidelines on the number of fans at indoor sporting events. On its Facebook page, the League says it will allow two spectators per participant at high school sporting events, such as volleyball. State officials had initially advised fans against attending indoor sporting events, although it hadn’t banned them.

The changes are among the most significant easing in state guidance on social and community gatherings in months after Gov. Tim Walz allowed in-person dining, fitness center openings and limited outdoor events in a round of loosening restrictions in June.

John Millea, a media specialist with the high school league, said the rules apply to not only sports, but concerts and other school activities.

"We were looking at a winter sports season, whether it's basketball or hockey, or wrestling or dance, with no spectators,” Millea said. “So it's a positive step for people who want to go watch kids play."

Millea said school administrators were given very little notice about the new guidelines and that it may take some time for them to figure out how to accommodate spectators, who will need to reserve their tickets in advance and provide information for contact tracing in the event of COVID-19 transmission.

Heather Mueller, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said the guidelines are aimed at protecting public health while allowing some opportunity for parents to watch their kids participate.

"I'm a mom of a senior and a sophomore, and I recognize the delicate balance that we are trying to have here, I want to see my senior play at sports and be involved in his activities,” Mueller said. “And I really want to ensure that we're protecting the safety and wellness about his friends and their families."

Each team is allowed two spectators per participant at indoor events if the venue is big enough. No gym or arena may have more than 250 spectators. Households must stay at least 6 feet apart. Masks are mandatory.

Both the Big 10 and the Minnesota State High School League initially canceled some seasons for high-intensity and high contact fall sports like football, as well as some indoor sports, like volleyball, before allowing the sports to go forward. The U and high schools also will have hockey seasons, after some initial doubts.

Minnesota health officials report record high numbers of new cases of COVID-19, topping 1,000 again in new data released Thursday. Seven of the top 10 daily totals of new cases have come in the last two and a half weeks, and more than half of the daily totals so far in October have exceeded 1,000 cases.

COVID 19 in Minnesota

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