Mask-wearing, capacity limits, closing times: What to know about MN's COVID restriction rollback

People eat outside on a patio.
Diners eat under heaters on a patio last November at The Gnome in St. Paul, just before Gov. Tim Walz issued the order restricting bar and restaurant service to takeout and delivery.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated: May 13 | Posted: May 6

For more than a year, Minnesota has been operating under some level of restrictions, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But soon, most of those restrictions will be lifted.

Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a three-step process to remove most restrictions by May 28, and end the statewide mask mandate by July 1 — and sooner, if 70 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older receive at least their first vaccine dose.  

The first step goes into effect at noon on May 7, when crowd-size and capacity limits on outdoor dining, events and get-togethers are removed. On that day, too, the requirement that people wear masks outdoors will lift — but masks will still be required at large outdoor venues with over 500 people. Bars and restaurants will also be allowed to stay open past 11 p.m. 

On May 14, Walz will sign an executive order to end the statewide mask mandate — which requires people to wear masks in all spaces accessible to the public, from government buildings to grocery stores. That news came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that its new guidance now allows fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most indoor spaces.

The governor had said the state’s mask rules would be lifted by July 1 — or before then, if 70 percent of Minnesotans 16 and older have at least one dose of the vaccine.

Cities and counties, as well as private businesses, can still choose to implement their own mask policies.

Later this month — on May 28 — all remaining capacity and distancing limits on venues, restaurants and public spaces will end, including for indoor events and gatherings. Masks will still be required indoors, and for outdoor events with more than 500 people.

So ... can I throw a big party at my house? 

Well, it depends on how you define big, but: Yes, indoor social gatherings with up to a maximum of 50 people will be permitted as of May 7 — an increase from the 15-person gatherings that have been permitted up to this point.

State leaders are still encouraging organizers of social gatherings to wait until any guests who are eligible to be vaccinated are fully vaccinated.  

And, if you want to throw a backyard party, as of May 7 there are no size restrictions, and starting May 14, fully vaccinated people won’t be required to wear a mask indoors and outdoors.

What are the rules for bars and restaurants? 

Starting May 7, indoor seating will still be capped at 75 percent capacity for restaurants, bars, brewpubs and similar establishments, with a maximum of 250 people. Venues will be allowed to exceed that cap if they can maintain 6 feet of social distance between groups and still stay under the threshold. 

And as of May 7, there is no longer any restriction on outdoor seating. Bars and restaurants may stay open later. Since February, they have had to close by 11 p.m. 

Will I be able to go to a concert soon? 

Yes, especially if it’s outside. Entertainment venues like theaters and concert halls, event and conference centers, festivals and fairs are allowed to host up to 250 people indoors, as long as occupancy doesn’t exceed 50 percent of normal capacity, starting May 7. 

However, venues that are large enough to accommodate more than 250 people (and still maintain that 50 percent capacity limit), will be allowed to exceed that limit, as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. 

As of May 7, crowd or social distancing limitations on outdoor venues are lifted. Starting May 14, masks will no longer required for people who’ve completed their vaccinations in most places — though people who aren’t fully vaccinated are still being urged to wear masks, and venues and businesses are allowed to implement their own masking policies.

Are restrictions being eased at pools and gyms? 

To some degree, yes. Indoor pools will still be capped at 50 percent capacity, not to exceed 250 people, unless facilities can handle more people while still maintaining social distancing and meeting capacity requirements. There’s no longer any limit on the number of swimmers in outdoor pools.

Indoor gyms and fitness centers will continue to follow the guidance for indoor spaces. Those guidelines set a limit of 250 people, not to exceed 50 percent of the normal occupant capacity, unless the space can accommodate more people while still following distancing and capacity guidelines. 

Six feet of social distancing must still be maintained.

Where will I still have to wear a mask?

Under an executive order Walz said he will sign on Friday, May 14, fully vaccinated Minnesotans will no longer need to wear a mask in most settings, indoors or outdoors.

Earlier in May, Walz announced that he would lift the statewide mask mandate by July 1 — or by the time 70 percent of the state’s population 16 and older population have received a vaccine, whichever came first.

But that timeline was shortened in mid-May, when the CDC announced its new guidance around mask-wearing. At the time, just over 60 percent of the state’s 16-and-older population had gotten one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The new CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

And while the state’s outdoor mask-wearing rule has largely been lifted, until May 14, masks are still required if you’re at large outdoor venues with 500 people or more.

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.