Outdoor dining allowed starting June 1 in Minnesota; salons to reopen with limitations

Catholic and Lutheran churches say they will defy continued ban on services beginning next week.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced new guidelines May 20 for restaurants, bars, salons and barber shops. Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune

Gov. Tim Walz announced Minnesota restaurants will be allowed to re-open for outdoor dining starting June 1, Wednesday.

Salons and barber shops will also be able to resume business at limited capacity, as part of Walz’s plan to gradually ease the restrictions implemented as part of the state’s COVID-19 response. All businesses will have to put safety measures in place to protect workers and customers.

“These health guidelines are not an impediment to opening our economy — they’re the key to opening the economy,” Walz said.

Despite the easing of restrictions, Walz came under intense criticism from some business groups, as well as Republicans who questioned why church services remain illegal.

“I see no reason why churches are any more dangerous a place for coronavirus transmission than Walmart or a mall,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, in a statement. “I am dumbfounded why the governor would treat churches this way and hope the federal courts will intervene. I am growing more concerned there is a targeted effort to keep churches closed and keep people away from their house of worship for no good reason.”

The Catholic Church and a conservative Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, sent separate letters to Walz Wednesday saying they will defy his order and begin services next week, the Star Tribune reported.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently that one infected person at a two-and-a-half hour choir practice in Washington State sickened 52 other singers, two of whom died.

Still, the intensifying attacks signaled a more difficult political environment for Walz, who has enjoyed both public support and relatively muted criticism from usual foes as he’s tried to confront the pandemic.

Minnesotans should expect a very different dining out experience in June. Restaurants won’t be allowed to offer indoor service, and tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. Total capacity will be capped at 50, and patrons will be asked to limit their parties to four people, or six if they’re from the same household. Customers will also have to make reservations.

Salons, barbershops and other personal care services will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity and cannot take walk-in customers. Campgrounds can also open June 1 with social distancing and sanitation measures. 

The next phases of Minnesota’s “stay safe plan” will permit retail and personal service businesses to increase their operating capacities and allow restaurants to offer indoor dining.

Salons, gyms and other businesses have been closed since Walz first issued Minnesota’s stay-at-home order in late March, and restaurants have been restricted to takeout and delivery. Walz has faced increasing calls from some business owners and Republicans to ease restrictions in recent weeks.

More than 650,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, representing more than 20% of the state’s workforce. Women, Black Minnesotans and young people have been hit hardest by job loss, raising concerns that the current crisis could worsen Minnesota’s existing economic disparities.

Walz also faces pressure from traditional DFL allies who believe he is moving to reopen too quickly. The Minnesota Nurses Association planned to march to the Capitol Wednesday night in protest of reopening while protective gear for health care workers remains scarce.

On the other side, Hospitality Minnesota, a trade group representing restaurants, lodging and campgrounds, put out a statement calling the changes “surprising and disappointing.”

“It will leave many behind around our state who cannot host patrons in an outdoor patio setting,” the statement says. “Today’s announcement further delays the incoming revenue these businesses need to survive.” 

Minnesota’s COVID-19 case count continues to rise, with more than 17,000 confirmed cases and 777 deaths as of Tuesday evening. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during the briefing Wednesday that the state’s COVID-19 models show the pandemic is still on the “upswing” here and heading toward a peak between June and August.

Almost half of the 550 Minnesotans hospitalized Tuesday were in intensive care units, and some hospitals’ ICUs are getting full, Malcolm said. The state anticipates that some of these hospitals will have to use their surge capacity in the next several weeks. 

“We are not to the point of saying that the danger has passed from a general community standpoint,” she said.

And testing hasn’t increased as much as officials had hoped under a joint effort with the Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota. The state has the capacity to test about 10,000 Minnesotans daily but has only reported 4,200 new completed tests daily, on average, since the plan was announced. The Department of Health is working on plans to launch mobile testing sites in hopes of making tests more accessible, Malcolm said.