Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a news conference on April 19, 2021, as the jury begins deliberations in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
Gov. Tim Walz will end all COVID-19 health restrictions by July 1, beginning with a phased-in lifting of capacity limits in public settings, he announced Thursday.
The three-step process calls for the easing of some capacity limits in outdoor settings at restaurants and large venues starting Friday. Mask requirements will end outdoors at large venues of more than 500 people.
Mandatory closing times for bars, restaurants and food and beverage services at other businesses will also end; Walz had initially set the closing times to reduce risk of spread due to commingling of people in crowded bar settings.
Starting May 28, remaining capacity limits for indoor events will end, except for indoor events that have more than 500 people. Businesses will not be subjected to new safety requirements, but must maintain plans to keep employees and customers safe from COVID-19.
Walz has set July 1 as the date for the lifting of the statewide mask mandate, the measure he previously said he would end last. It could be sooner if the state is able to vaccinate 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older. Currently, 59% of the state’s eligible population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“As cases recede, more people get vaccinated every day, and vaccines are readily available to all who want it, we can now confidently and safely set out our path back to normal,” Walz said in a statement.
He added: “The pandemic is not over and we have work to do. But from the State Fairgrounds, to doctor’s offices, to retrofitted Metro Transit buses that deliver vaccines where they’re most needed, Minnesotans now have more opportunities than ever to get the vaccine when and where they want to.”
To vaccinate 70% of eligible Minnesotans means the state would have to inoculate another 473,000 people, Walz said. In recent weeks, the rate of vaccination has slowed. Pharmacies, clinics and state vaccination sites have ample supply of vaccines and appointments. Some clinics have begun accepting walk-in patients.
Republicans, who have long pressured Walz to end his emergency powers to deal with the pandemic, criticized the timeline, saying all restrictions should end now.
“Not good enough and not soon enough,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement. “The emergency is over and the mandates need to end.”
Gazelka on Thursday used his power to change COVID-19 protocols in the Minnesota Senate, announcing that mask wearing will be optional in the Senate chamber and senators will be allowed to retake their usual seats on the floor.
Similarly, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said: “The data clearly shows we’ve made incredible progress reducing case counts and getting Minnesotans vaccinated, but the Governor insists on holding on to powers he doesn’t need — it’s time to open up and end the emergency powers.”
DFL leaders issued statements in support of the plan the governor unveiled.
“As more and more Minnesotans receive the vaccine, Governor Walz’s approach to wind down restrictions is consistent with his earlier decisions – thoughtful and measured,” Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said in a statement. “The plan continues his approach to use science to keep people safe, while allowing businesses and customers to safely engage.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement that “it’s my hope that Minnesotans continue getting vaccinated so that we can stay ahead of any variants, get our state fully opened, and get back to the things we have missed since COVID-19 started.”
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