ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced significant new COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants, weddings and funerals and private gatherings in a live address Tuesday. Most of the restrictions will go into effect at 10 p.m. Friday.
The new restrictions come as Minnesota is experiencing an explosion of COVID-19 cases across the state, with daily case counts, hospitalizations and deaths at their highest point since the onset of the pandemic. The restrictions are designed to target the spread of the coronavirus among younger adults, who make up the largest group of COVID-19 cases and often have mild to no symptoms.
"We need to move now. This has happened incredibly quickly," Walz said.
According to the governor, over 70% of coronavirus outbreaks in Minnesota from June to November have a direct link back to weddings, private social gatherings, and late nights at bars and restaurants. Retailers, gyms and schools will not be affected by the new restrictions.
During the press conference, Dr. George Morris with CentraCare said that while hospitals were previously facing a supply shortage, they are now dealing with a staff shortage due to illness or quarantine after exposure to COVID-19. Dr. Marc Gorelick, CEO of Children's Minnesota, said that there are currently 13 children hospitalized with COVID-19, five of whom are in the ICU.
Dr. Gorelick also urged residents to get their flu shots. Gov. Walz noted that there are currently four people statewide hospitalized with the flu. At the most recent check, 1,299 Minnesotans are hospitalized with coronavirus, including 282 in the ICU.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Under the new restrictions, bars and restaurants will be required to end dine-in service - including alcohol - at 10 p.m., although takeout and delivery service will still be allowed after that time.
Indoor capacity will be capped at 150 people and may not exceed 50% capacity. The previous limit was 250 people.
No bar seating or service will be allowed. Bars and restaurants that only have counter service can still have patrons line up with masks and then return to their tables. Bar games that require standing, such as darts and pool, will not be permitted.
Outbreaks in bars and restaurants spiked in October, according to data provided by the state Department of Health showing 57 such outbreaks in October after just 18 the previous month.
Defending his decision, Walz said Minnesota's contact tracers are finding "at least a doubling" of infections in bars after 9 p.m., as alcohol often lowers inhibitions - louder talking, no social distancing, etc.
"I feel like the guy in 'Footloose,'" Gov. Walz said. "No dancing, no fun...that is not my intention. My intention is to keep you safe so you can all dance a lot longer."
"Our hospitality industry has done more than anybody should've ever asked of them, and they have done it so right...this is happening not because they're being lax but because it's the setting that the virus is most effective at spreading in," he added.
Philip Weber has owned Park Tavern in St. Louis Park for 40 years. He says the late night, young crowd is one of the things that has kept his business afloat during the pandemic.
“That’s unfortunately my and many other bar’s sweet spot as far as the younger folks coming out at night and spending money and keeping the businesses afloat,” Weber said.
He says with having to close food and beverage service at 10 p.m. and stopping service at the bar, he’ll likely have to cut some staff.
“I’ve got to figure out some way to keep some of them employed but you’re going to see the next great wave of unemployment coming down with this,” Weber said.
Head of Hospitality Minnesota, an industry group that represents the bar and restaurant industry, Liz Rammer, says many businesses are entering a crisis point and she’s concerned many more will close with the winter coming and these new restrictions in place.
“They’re really reaching the end and I think some of them are going to be thinking about what’s next and what’s the most reasonable course of action,” Rammer said.
WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS
Weddings and funerals will be limited to 50 people starting Nov. 27. That limit will eventually be dropped to 25 people on Dec. 11.
Receptions and similar events will not be allowed to take place between 10 p.m. to 4 p.m.
PRIVATE SOCIAL GATHERINGS
The new restrictions also target private gatherings. Beginning Friday, there will be a 10-person limit for indoor and outdoor gatherings and all social gatherings will be limited to three households or less, including the host.
"You think seeing your brother-in-law or sister-in-law at an outdoor patio setting, socially distanced, that that poses very little risk... as Director Ehresmann would say, that poses less risk but not no risk," Gov. Walz said.
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The governor also pointed out that eating and drinking increases risk of transmission, as well as talking loudly and singing.
"It seems like these things shouldn't be as risky or elevated, but what we're seeing is that they do do that."
CELL PHONE TRACKER
The governor also said Monday that state officials will soon roll out a cell phone tracker designed to alert people when they've been near someone who tested positive. A person who tests positive would get an alert, allowing them to notify everyone -- anonymously -- who has been within six feet of them. The person can opt out of sending the message, and recipients would not be able to see who tested positive.
Walz said it's been "pretty successful" in other countries that have used the technology, and said it would be "totally anonymous" to avoid privacy concerns.
To view the full executive order, click here.