The Potluck

Walz loosens restrictions on gyms, restaurants, youth sports, allowing outdoor dining but not indoor

By: - December 16, 2020 12:08 pm

Gov. Tim Walz stands outside of Casper’s and Runyon’s Nook restaurant in St. Paul. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday loosened some of his public health restrictions ahead of the Friday expiration of a four-week shuttering of indoor restaurant dining, gyms and entertainment venues. 

Indoor dining will remain off limits through the holidays, but Walz will allow outdoor dining to resume with limitations on capacity. Gyms will be allowed to re-open on Saturday with 25% capacity and mandated mask wearing. Youth sports will be allowed to resume practices in early January but a decision on starting game play has not yet been determined. 

Altogether, the new restrictions represent a cautious reaction to public health data showing that the Thanksgiving Day holiday did not exacerbate the recent surge of COVID-19 infections that Walz cited in issuing the four-week closure.

Walz on Wednesday also signed into law a nearly $217 million COVID-19 relief package that will distribute cash aid to Minnesota businesses. He said the legislation is intended to help businesses stay afloat as the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine more widely circulates. 

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Walz said, urging Minnesotans to continue wearing masks and avoid indoor gatherings with people outside of their own households. 

Hospitality and restaurant groups, who had lobbied for re-opening, nonetheless blasted the decision, saying it was unrealistic to believe outdoor dining in Minnesota in winter would be sufficient to keep restaurants afloat. 

“We are gravely disappointed by the governor’s decision to extend the closure of restaurants into the new year,” Liz Rammer, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said in a statement. 

Under the new restrictions, restaurants, bars and breweries will be allowed to open outdoor dining but with capacity limited to 50%. Outdoor tents or structures cannot have more than two walls to allow for proper airflow. Outdoor dining and on-premise consumption will continue to be affected by a 10 p.m. 4 a.m. curfew, but takeout will still be allowed. 

Rammer said hospitality businesses can operate safely and argued health department data show these businesses represent a small portion of places where COVID-19 spreads. 

“Hospitality is a force for good in our communities, and the governor and his administration would be wise to leverage that force, rather than watch it flicker out.”

Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, called the move “shameful and unjust,” saying the administration hasn’t been sufficiently transparent. 

“Governor Walz’s order continues blanket rules that are resulting in the near elimination of an entire industry, employing thousands of Minnesotans,” he said in a statement. “The paltry offering of outdoor dining in the middle of a Minnesota winter doesn’t even begin to make up for the forced closures.”

Gyms and fitness centers, which had lobbied heavily to reopen, will be allowed to resume operations, but at greatly diminished capacity. Gyms will be limited to 25% occupancy, or a maximum of 100 people. Social distancing requirements will be increased to 12 feet, and masks will be required to be worn at all times. Group classes will not be allowed, and showers and pools will remain closed. 

Indoor social gatherings outside of one’s own household are still discouraged. Under the order, outdoor social gatherings of no more than 15 people from no more than three households are permitted. 

Youth sports can begin practices starting Jan. 4.

Walz’s announcement comes the same day the Minnesota Health Department on Wednesday announced 92 new deaths caused by COVID-19, as well as nearly 2,300 new cases.

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