Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday will announce he is extending his current monthlong ban on indoor bar and restaurant service through the year-end holidays; he’ll also detail a strategy to get elementary schools back to in-person learning, an aide to the governor said Tuesday night.
The governor is expected to lay out his plans during a 1:15 p.m. briefing.
Walz also plans to announce that fitness clubs can reopen starting Saturday, according to people briefed on his plans ahead of the announcement. Visitors will be required to wear masks throughout and keep extra distance between themselves and other patrons.
Youth sports teams will be allowed to resume practices on Jan. 4, but games won’t be allowed until later, the people given advance details say.
Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:
4,483 deaths (21 new)
384,164 positive cases (2,340 new), 351,820 off isolation (about 92 percent)
5 million tests, 2.8 million people tested (about 49 percent of the population)
8.1 percent seven-day positive test rate (officials find 5 percent or more concerning)
News of the extended restrictions on indoor service will likely come as a blow to the thousands of bar and restaurant owners and workers across the state. Those businesses have been forced to do takeout-only or delivery the past few weeks as health officials worked to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The restrictions were set to expire on Friday.
Hospital admissions, new caseloads ebbing
Walz’s moves follow several days of positive news on new COVID-19 caseloads and hospitalizations. Tuesday’s COVID-19 data showed new caseloads and hospitalizations continuing to retreat from their recent highs, with no sign of an expected surge from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations.
Officials say they’ve been working to balance the recent improvement in conditions with the reality that the pandemic isn’t over.
New hospital admissions are pulling back from their late November, early December highs, although about 1,300 people remain in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday, with 300 needing intensive care.
Officials, though, have made clear that Minnesota is not out of the woods yet.
The death toll is still awful. More than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the past six weeks. That’s nearly half of all the deaths in the pandemic. That includes a dreadful December, with 890 deaths reported in the first 15 days of the month.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters on Tuesday that the monthlong restriction appears to have had a “really positive effect” in slowing the growth of new cases.
Malcolm and other health leaders have said they’re trying to balance the recent improvement in conditions with the reality that the pandemic continues at a worrisome pace.
They continue to urge Minnesotans to do all they can — wearing masks in public gathering spaces, socially distancing and staying home if you don’t feel well — to guard against the spread of the disease.
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 74,000 since the pandemic began, including nearly 40,000 among people ages 20 to 24.
The number of high school-age children confirmed with the disease has also grown, with about 30,000 total cases among children 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 grandparents and other vulnerable populations.
It’s especially concerning because people can have the coronavirus and spread COVID-19 when they don’t have symptoms.
New cases ebb in rural Minnesota
Central and western Minnesota drove much of the increase in new cases over the past five weeks, while Hennepin and Ramsey counties showed some of the slowest case growth in the state.
After a spike in confirmed cases through much of November and early December, all regions of the state have seen new case numbers plateau or fall.
Hot spots continues to pop up in rural counties relative to their population.
New 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.
Officials continue to plead with Minnesotans to wear masks in public gathering spaces, socially distance, stay home if they don’t feel well and otherwise stay vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.
No sign yet of Thanksgiving celebrations surge
Officials have been anticipating another wave of climbing caseloads and hospitalizations soon originating from Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. But it hasn’t happened yet.
State public health leaders last week said they were somewhat hopeful that many families heeded the public pleas to not gather in big groups for Thanksgiving, and so the worst-case scenarios of a post-holiday surge might not materialize.
But they’ve also cautioned that it’s too soon to say a Thanksgiving celebration surge will not happen.
While the drops in cases and hospital admissions are encouraging, “we’re still way above what is considered a more manageable rate of growth in cases,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters Tuesday.
“We’re still in a volatile state, a risky state,” she added. “Rapid case growth can happen at these levels.”
Developments around the state
Minnesota businesses plan to defy shutdown order and reopen
More than a hundred businesses statewide are planning to reopen Wednesday as direct defiance of Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 restrictions.
The group ReOpen Minnesota Coalition is encouraging businesses statewide to reopen as many are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
The group’s Darius Tiechroew said bars restaurants and gyms statewide are at risk of closing permanently under the governor’s executive order and owners can’t support their families and employees. He also said the just-approved $216 million legislative aid package is only a short-term and temporary fix for a bigger problem.
“It may delay the demise of their business and their livelihoods. A week or two. But that’s it,” he said. “A lot of these places can’t afford to wait another week or two.”
— Hannah Yang | MPR News
State suspends liquor license for bar that continued in-person service
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Sunday suspended the liquor license of an East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that had been operating in violation of state COVID-19 restrictions.
The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened to in-person service last week. Owner Jane Moss said her business would go under if she could not serve patrons in person.
The 60-day liquor license suspension announced Sunday is set to expire in February; another violation could result in a five-year license revocation.
The action follows a temporary restraining order issued Friday by a Polk County District Court judge, ordering the bar to close to in-person service.
Representatives of a group called the Reopen Minnesota Coalition told KARE-TV on Friday that dozens of businesses plan to defy the governor’s order in the coming week.
— MPR News Staff
Walz to extend in-person dining pause through holidays, allow gyms to reopen with restrictions: A spokesperson said the governor plans to lay out the next steps in the state’s strategy for mitigating what has become the rampant spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota. The most recent restrictions — limiting bars and restaurants to takeout only and closing gyms and indoor entertainment venues — are set to expire on Friday.
COVID vaccine arrives first for Native nations in Minn.: As the coronavirus vaccine makes its way to states and tribal nations across the country, health care workers on reservations across Minnesota were among the first to be vaccinated. The director of the federal Indian Health Service visited the White Earth Nation Tuesday to see the vaccine distribution in action.
A pandemic guide to holiday festivities: There will be no in-person “Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater this year, and Clara and the nutcracker will only be visiting the Land of Sweets in our dreams (or on our screens). While 2020’s celebrations may be at a distance, there are still plenty of opportunities for festive holiday activities.
Hospitality industry workers in Minnesota struggle: Out-of-work Minnesotans on the verge of exhausting their unemployment benefits are getting some relief. But is it enough to help the tens of thousands of hospitality workers in Minnesota who are without jobs? One laid-off hospitality worker in Minneapolis says he needs more help.
VA starts vaccinations at Minneapolis hospital: Shots are heading into lots of arms now at the VA, one of the state’s largest medical centers, and at selected hospitals and clinics around Minnesota as shipments begin to arrive.
Legislature passes COVID aid bill for businesses, workers: Minnesota lawmakers passed a plan that will give $216 million to businesses struggling with COVID-19 restrictions and extends unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.
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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