Indoor dining to resume next week; theaters and museums can also reopen

People sit at tables in a restaurant.
Patrons sit at Searles on Fifth Ave in St. Cloud, Minn., in November. Restrictions on indoor dining and drinking are due to expire late Sunday and Gov. Tim Walz said he's likely to lay out a plan going forward this week.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News 2020

Updated: 2:30 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz will allow bars and restaurants to offer indoor dining again next week — with limits — and also allow for movie theaters, museums and other entertainment venues to reopen after being closed since mid-November.

The new order is set to take effect Monday. It will allow bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity, with no more than six people to a table or parties of two at the bar. Reservations are required and dine-in service must end by 10 p.m.

“Business owners are pretty innovative on how they do these things,” Walz said Wednesday afternoon. “We are still at high rate of infection, but not like we were.”

Entertainment venues like movie theaters, museums and bowling alleys may reopen at 25 percent capacity. Masks will be required and food service must also end by 10 p.m.

A prior order by Walz that was first announced in mid-November and extended last month is set to lapse Sunday night.

Earlier this week when he signaled he would loosen restrictions, Walz cited lower coronavirus test positivity rates than when the restrictions were imposed. The state’s hospitals, he said, are under less dire strain.

The state has also started vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health workers have administered about 37 percent of the doses the state has received, NPR reported. About 1.5 percent of the state's population has been vaccinated.

Walz said the variant that makes the coronavirus more contagious has not been found in Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean it is not in the state. He said wearing masks and social distancing continues to be essential to slow the spread.

The governor also noted the violence at the U.S. Capitol occurring as he spoke.

“On a day of great uncertainty, in the world’s oldest democracy of 250 years, the way we got there is by respecting one another, by compromising, by working together, by using science and innovation and compassion to come up with good solutions for one another. We’re doing that around this issue as COVID,” Walz said as he closed his brief remarks. “I want to send a big thank you to the Legislature who is doing that.”

Restaurateurs said they'll welcome a relaxation of indoor dining restrictions, but say they're a long way from getting back to normal.

Jax Cafe owner Bill Kozlak on how his restaurant has fared

Jax Cafe owner Bill Kozlak said that big gatherings, like a traditional Sunday brunch buffet, were key parts of his Minneapolis business. He said he expects COVID-19 to cut into the business for much of the next year.

"We did create a great order from the menu weekend brunch that will hopefully fill that void until we can get to that comfort level," he said. "I mean the vaccine should help with that but it may not be before next fall."

Churches, schools and gyms

Gyms remain capped at 25 percent, with a 150-person limit, and class sizes can increase to 25 people. The order also says people must maintain 9 feet of distance, with masks required. Pools, which reopened earlier this week, must also operate at 25 percent capacity.

Small weddings receptions and other private parties may resume, with limits. If food and drinks are served, parties must be kept to two households or 10 people indoors; that rises to three households or 15 people if the events are held outdoors.

Churches will remain at 50 percent capacity, but the new order will no longer limit the overall number of worshippers.

Youth sports resumed practices earlier this week, but games will not resume until Jan. 14 with limits on total spectators.

Walz previously said elementary schools would be allowed to conditionally open to in-person learning starting Jan. 18, regardless of county case rates, “as long as they are able to implement additional mitigation strategies, which include providing and requiring staff to wear a face shield and mask and offering regular testing,” according to the governor’s office.

‘Help keep things on the right track’

Even as Walz loosens restrictions, he and the state’s top health official are cautioning that cases and deaths could again surge like they did in November and December. In addition to wearing masks and social distancing, they urged people to get tested for the coronavirus.

Health experts are warning of the potential for a post-holiday spike, while there are concerns about a more contagious coronavirus strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom. The variant has been reported in at least four states: New York, Colorado, California and Florida.

“Minnesotans have worked hard and done their part to get us back from the edge of the cliff, and now they can help keep things on the right track,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “One year into this pandemic, we know that improvements are tenuous. If we let our guard down, COVID-19 finds a way to surge back in terrifying ways.”

Read the governor’s executive order:

Watch the governor’s announcement:

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

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