Gov. Tim Walz Feb. 3 2021

Gov. Tim Walz pushes lawmakers to create a $35-million fund for public safety to keep the peace during the trial of Derek Chauvin in March.

(The Center Square) – On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz announced loosened COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and private gatherings.

 The order is effective Saturday at noon and takes small steps to reopen Minnesota’s economy.

  • Increasing the “not to exceed” capacity in restaurants to 250 people, while leaving the maximum capacity at 50%
  • Increasing indoor entertainment “not to exceed” capacity to 250 people, while leaving the maximum capacity at 25%
  • Increasing private events and celebrations “not to exceed” capacity from 10 to 50 people, while leaving the maximum capacity at 25%
  • Increasing gym and pool “not to exceed” capacity from 150 to 250, while leaving maximum capacity at 25%, and reducing distancing requirement to 6 feet.
  • Allowing restaurants to stay open until 11 p.m., one hour later than before.

“Our small businesses have made enormous sacrifices for the health of their employees and communities,” Walz said. “Today, we can make these cautious, common sense adjustments to support them because of the progress we have made controlling the spread of COVID-19 and getting the most at-risk Minnesotans vaccinated.”

The hospitality industry has been pushing for loosened restrictions as case numbers have consistently fallen. The COVID-19 case positivity rate has dropped to 3.9%, below the 5% benchmark.

“While these measures are not a major dial turn, we know that they will make a difference to thousands of businesses and workers across the state,” Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said. “To keep making progress in growing our hospitality sector, it’s critical that we all remain vigilant in fighting COVID-19 by washing our hands, masking up and staying six feet apart.”

The loosened restrictions follow as the state has vaccinated at least one COVID-19 dose in more than 617,000 residents as of Wednesday.

 Liz Rammer, CEO, Hospitality Minnesota, said the industry "appreciates the ability to move forward and continues to be committed to operating safely to protect the public’s health. With virus-related numbers trending in the right direction, these modest adjustments need to serve as the starting point for a more comprehensive, methodical framework for moving our state’s devastated hospitality businesses back to full operation."

Rammer supports a plan introduced by Rep. Baker this week. 

"We hope Governor Walz and his administration will work with Representative Baker and other legislative and hospitality industry leaders to formalize this plan so that Minnesota’s year-round and seasonal businesses can get ready for a healthy and prosperous spring and summer." 

Walz also said he’s extending his emergency powers for another 30 days, the end of which will mark a full year of Minnesotans living under executive order powers.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, welcomed the announcement but said Walz "refused to work with businesses or the legislature."

 "These changes give restaurant owners less than 48 hours to plan for Valentine's Day - their second busiest day of the year - at a time when they are struggling to survive after nearly a year of changing restrictions," Gazelka said in a statement.

"Continuing to go it alone with emergency powers and universal control over the dials is unwise. It leaves Minnesotans without clear expectations for future changes affecting their livelihoods and ability to support their families." 

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.