The Potluck

Your questions about Minnesota’s new COVID-19 restrictions, answered

By: - November 19, 2020 9:56 am

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz spoke to Minnesotans Wednesday evening from the Governor’s Reception room at the State Capitol, to discuss the latest steps in his response to COVID-19. Pool photo by Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Wednesday evening new restrictions for the next four weeks aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about the new executive order.

What’s closed? 

Restaurants, bars, hookah bars and breweries must close indoor and patio dining. They can still offer takeout, delivery or walk-up service. 

Gyms and fitness centers will be closed to the public, including public pools, indoor sports facilities and dance studios. The executive order also applies to gyms in apartment buildings.

Entertainment venues like movie theaters, museums, arcades, bowling alleys and amusement parks, as well as fairs and festivals, will be closed. Drive-in events are still allowed, if attendees stay in their own vehicles and distance from other cars.

Social gatherings are prohibited. This means get-togethers of any size with people outside your household are not allowed, even if you can be outside and social-distance.

Wedding ceremonies and funeral services are allowed with safety measures, but events like wedding receptions, gatherings after funerals and celebrations are prohibited. Wedding ceremonies and funeral services are capped at 50% occupancy, or a maximum of 250 people.

Organized sports are paused. This includes practices, workouts and games for indoor and outdoor youth and adult sports. Sports have been linked to more than 190 outbreaks and 780 COVID-19 cases across the state, Walz said.

New restrictions will be in effect from Friday, Nov. 20 to Friday, Dec. 18.

When will the restrictions be in effect?

The executive order is effective for four weeks, from 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20 through Friday, Dec. 18.

Why is Walz implementing new restrictions now?

Health officials, doctors and nurses across the state have said for weeks that Minnesota is reaching a critical point in its ability to control the pandemic. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have surged, with the worst likely yet to come.

Before early November, Minnesota had never reported more than 4,000 new cases in a single day. Now, the state is averaging nearly 7,000 new cases daily — and could see 10,000 new cases daily by Thanksgiving, said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. 

Roughly 1,700 Minnesotans are hospitalized with COVID-19, and hospitals are stressed as they care for record numbers of patients while facing staffing shortages. Increasing numbers of health care workers are unable to work due to COVID-19 infection or exposure, primarily caused by community spread.

“We are at a breaking point. As hospitals near the crisis of turning away new patients, continuing as things are is simply not sustainable. The actions announced today will help prevent more families from losing a loved one and ensure our hospitals can treat those who fall ill,” Walz said in a written statement.

The businesses and activities Walz is ordering closed — restaurants, bars, gyms, weddings and social gatherings — have been tied to the highest number of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Minnesota hospitals are strained by staffing shortages and increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients.

What won’t change under the executive order?

Grocery stores, other retail, salons and barber shops will remain open with the usual precautions, like mask wearing and social distancing. Data shows that these establishments are not responsible for large outbreaks, Walz said.

Places of worship and religious services are not affected by the new executive order. 

Schools will continue to follow the state’s Safe Learning Plan, which allows school districts to decide whether to hold in-person classes, remote learning only or a combination of the two depending on the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and their ability to implement safety measures.

Child care is not affected by the new executive order.

Health care is not affected, including mental health support groups.

How will the restrictions be enforced?

Violating the executive order is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in prison. For business owners who encourage employees to violate the restrictions, there’s a higher penalty of up to $3,000 or a year in prison.

The state so far seems unlikely to punish private citizens for holding social gatherings in violation of the order. Walz has said he’s hoping Minnesotans will comply voluntarily, in the interest of protecting each other from COVID-19.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.