Walz sets May 28 end to COVID curbs, July 1 end to mask mandate

A man wearing a red and black plaid face mask gestures at a podium.
Gov. Tim Walz, pictured here last July announcing a statewide mask mandate, will lay out his timeline for undoing the remaining COVID-19 mitigation rules on Thursday.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Updated 1:48 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday laid out his timeline for ending COVID-19 restrictions — including the end of curbs in time for Memorial Day weekend — serving notice that the pandemic’s end is near.

"It's been a long journey, but we did the things that needed to be done,” Walz told reporters as he unveiled the winding down of restrictions. “The job is not done until it's done, but the plan to finish it is on us now.”

At the same time, he continued to plead with Minnesotans to get their COVID-19 shots. “You need to help Minnesota now,” he said to those adults still not vaccinated.

The governor’s office highlighted three key dates to wind down the restrictions:

  • May 7 (Friday). The state removes limits for outdoor dining and events like fairs, festivals and parades. It ends the mask order outdoors, except at venues with more than 500 people. Pandemic-related closing times for bars, restaurants and other gathering spaces are lifted.

  • May 28. Any remaining outdoor limits and indoor activity restrictions will end.

  • July 1. The state’s mask wearing requirement will end. It could end sooner if 70 percent of the state’s 16-and-older population have received at least one vaccine dose. Currently it’s about 60 percent.

At the slower vaccination pace the state’s seen over the past week, the 70 percent threshold would be about a month out.

Graph showing when Minnesota is on target to vaccinated 70% of adults

The governor’s office said some protections set up in the pandemic will remain, including an eviction moratorium and a “price gouging” ban. Local governments and businesses will still be allowed to extend masking and other virus precautions beyond July 1.

Political reaction to Walz’s timeline was split largely around political lines. Democrats praised the governor’s decision-making. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, panned it as “not good enough and not soon enough.”

At one point in his remarks Thursday, Walz lamented that the wearing of masks became politicized during the pandemic. He said that division ultimately cost lives.

He challenged voters who’ve opposed his handling of the pandemic to get vaccinated so they’d be alive next year to vote him out of office if they choose.

Businesses that depend on crowds applauded the news Thursday. The Minnesota Twins said the team was "absolutely ecstatic" about the COVID-19 curbs ending.

"We are currently exploring how to incrementally increase Target Field attendance safely and responsibly, beginning with our games of May 14-30 and ramping up to full capacity as appropriate,” the team said in a statement.

Bars and restaurants — some of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic — cheered the changes.

“Local bars and restaurants have been desperate to fully open safely and quickly — and the end is in sight,” Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said in a statement.

“We’re thrilled to fully open for business with minimal restrictions,” he said. “Please visit your local bars and restaurants — we’ve missed you!”

Watch: Walz lays out plan to end COVID-19 curbs and responds to reporter questions:

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.

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