Gov. Tim Walz will allow bars and restaurants to offer indoor dining again next week with limits, and movie theaters, museums and other entertainment venues can reopen after being closed since mid-November.
Walz framed the moves as cautious adjustments but made clear he won’t allow new virus spread to snowball. He also urged Minnesotans to continue social distancing and wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.
He said Wednesday that with help from the vaccine rollout, tens of thousands of people will soon be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“We are going to hit a critical mass where all of our front-line health care workers, all of our most vulnerable, all of our seniors are vaccinated and then we will get to the rest of us that will help slow the spread of this but,” Walz said, “the dire situation of deaths and hospitalizations are going to be reduced relatively quickly and the way we help them is by continuing to follow these guidance.”
While the state is still experiencing a high rate of infection, Walz said it is less serious than around Thanksgiving.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
5,461 deaths (67 newly reported)
427,587 positive cases (2,346 newly reported), 406,910 off isolation (95 percent)
5.7 million tests, 3 million people tested (about 61 percent of the population)
6.4 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent concerning)
The new order is set to take effect Monday. It will allow bars and restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity, with no more than six people to a table or parties of two at the bar. Reservations are required and dine-in service must end by 10 p.m.
Minnesota health officials this week also announced that they expected to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate all its health care workers and most nursing-home residents by the end of January.
The state has received enough vaccines for a first shot for all health care workers designated for phase 1A, but it would take through the month to complete the first round, said the state’s infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann on Monday. Phase 1A covers health care professionals, long-term care residents and others most likely to be exposed to the virus.
On Wednesday, the state posted only 310 new vaccinations distributed, putting the total at 81,167 — well behind the number of doses available across the state. Ehresmann said, however, Minnesota’s rollout is comparable to other states.
Walz on Wednesday said that Minnesota would receive 66,000 more vaccines by next Monday.
Caseloads spread across age groups
People in their 20s still make up the age bracket with the state’s largest number of confirmed cases — more than 80,000 since the pandemic began, including more than 42,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age youth confirmed with the disease has also grown, with more than 32,000 total cases among those ages 15 to 19 since the pandemic began.
Although less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease and end up hospitalized, experts worry youth and young adults will spread it to older relatives and members of other vulnerable populations.
It’s of particular concern because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
New cases ebb across Minnesota
Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past two months, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.
Cases continue to fall statewide, with most regions dipping down to levels before the state’s COVID-19 surge that hit in November and early December.
Hot spots continue to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.
Caseloads still heaviest among people of color
In Minnesota and across the country, COVID-19 has hit communities of color disproportionately hard in both cases and deaths. That’s been especially true for Minnesotans of Hispanic descent for much of the pandemic.
Even as new case counts ease from their peak a few weeks ago, the data shows people of color continue to be hit hardest.
Distrust of the government, together with deeply rooted health and economic disparities, have hampered efforts to boost testing among communities of color, officials say, especially among unauthorized immigrants who fear their personal information may be used to deport them.
Similar trends have been seen among Minnesota’s Indigenous residents. Counts among Indigenous people jumped in October relative to population.
Developments around the state
Minn. bar, restaurant owners challenge Gov. Walz’s COVID rules in court
Even with looser restrictions going into effect next week, bars and restaurant owners in Minnesota filed a new pair of lawsuits this week challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders.
Attorney Matt Duffy represents two bars, a bowling alley and industry suppliers. He said that the state has not provided data on outbreaks at dining establishments to justify the rules and that the mandates violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because they treat retailers differently than bars and restaurants.
“We’re willing to work with the governor’s office. We just felt like we’ve been shut out so far. And I think the lawsuit was kind of the last ditch effort to get the attention of the governor,” Duffy said.
A separate group of 27 bars and restaurants also filed a similar lawsuit. Earlier legal attempts to reverse Walz’s executive orders have not succeeded.
A parents’ group that challenged a temporary ban on youth athletics dropped its federal suit this week after practices resumed as planned.
— Matt Sepic | MPR News
Minnesota’s restaurants prepare for reopening, again: “When things reopened the first time, we certainly saw some glimpses of restaurants and other food establishments starting to get some traction again, so we’re hopeful we’ll see the same thing,” said Max Bialick, purchasing manager for American Fish and Seafood.
Indoor dining to resume next week; theaters and museums can also reopen: Starting Monday, restaurants and bars will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity. Bowling alleys, movie theaters and museums can reopen at 25 percent capacity.
For one woman in recovery, staying sober during a pandemic has been a lesson in resilience: For most of her adult life, sobriety has been hard for Heather Russell to maintain. When the pandemic hit, she worried she’d go back to drinking, after nearly a year of sobriety. Instead, Russell says 2020 was a lesson in tapping resilience she didn’t know she had.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health’s cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
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