(The Center Square) – Starting Friday, new restrictions from Gov. Tim Walz will curtail social gatherings, bars and restaurants – venues the governor said were sources of COVID-19 outbreaks statewide for people between the ages of 18-34.
Walz said 71% of recent COVID-19 outbreaks are from social gatherings, including weddings and funerals, and restaurants and bars.
The state health department hasn’t responded to three requests for the data driving these decisions.
Walz claimed contact tracers were finding “at least a doubling” of infections in bars after 9 p.m.
Bars and restaurants must operate at half capacity with a maximum of 150 people. All customers must be seated, all bar games that require standing are prohibited, and dine-in service must be shut down between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
“Each step of the way, we’ve followed the best data available,” Walz said in a statement. “These targeted, science-based actions will help get the spread of the virus under control so that we can care for those who fall ill, get our kids in the classroom, keep our businesses open, and get back to the activities we love.”
Beginning Friday, both indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, and all social gatherings must be limited to members of three households or fewer.
It’s unclear how this rule will be enforced.
Walz said the above cap applies to upcoming holidays, but the state's law enforcement agencies don’t plan on barging into someone’s home and arresting them during a large family Thanksgiving.
The order limits capacity for receptions related to weddings and funerals at 50 people starting Nov. 27 and reduces that number to 25 people beginning Dec. 11.
Receptions and other events will be prohibited between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
“Minnesota is at a critical juncture in the pandemic, and if we don’t take action now we will be overwhelmed and facing the tragic scenario seen in neighboring states,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said in a statement.
“Minnesotans need to be aware that overwhelmed health care systems will result in a catastrophic impact from a public health standpoint and also from an economic and social standpoint.”
Walz also announced $10 million in federal Small Business Relief Grants to support an additional 1,000 businesses that have applied for the program.
Violation of Executive Order 20-96 is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 90 days.
Business owners violating the order are guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $3,000 or by imprisonment for not more than a year.
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak said that “[u]nfairly singling out every bar and every restaurant in Minnesota is not a scalpel – it’s a hatchet targeting one of Minnesota's hardest hit industries this year.”
Chesak pointed out that bars and restaurants are affiliated with only 2% of the COVID-19 cases, “but these new blanket rules across the state will cause more businesses to close, leaving more people unemployed and unable to support their families,” Chesak said in a statement. “We have yet to see real empirical data from state leaders showing how these regulations could help.”
Chesak argues that most bars and restaurants are complying with existing regulations and that “[p]unishing those who are complying is unfair and destructive to the economic livelihood of thousands.”
“To make matters worse, we are unaware of any COVID-19 outbreaks being traced back to people playing amusement games – like pool or darts – in a bar or restaurant,” Chesak said. "This new rule doesn’t make any sense.”