ST. PAUL — Minnesota bars and restaurants will be prohibited from serving in-person meals or drinks after 10 p.m. beginning Friday, Nov. 13, and patrons will be barred from sitting at the counter or playing pool, Gov. Tim Walz announced.
The governor in a live-streamed video address Tuesday, Nov. 10, announced that curfew on restaurants and bars as well as additional restrictions for those settings and social gatherings as the state reported another surge in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of available hospital beds.
Under a new executive order, Walz banned sitting at a bar or ordering from a bar counter and playing games like pool or darts in a bar setting. And he tamped down on the number of people that can legally meet for outdoor social gatherings, weddings, funerals and other events.
Those settings have seen dozens of outbreak events in recent months, leading to thousands of new cases of COVID-19 around the state.
"We are in the midst of a significant surge in coronavirus cases. I wish I could tell you this was unexpected but it was not," Walz said. “We’ve turned our dials, we’re going to have to turn them back a little bit today.”
In particular, Walz has said the earlier closing time for bars is geared toward Minnesotans ages 18 to 35 who've been an especially dangerous force in spreading COVID-19, often without recognizing they have the illness. That age demographic has continued to frequent bars and often skipped required masking and social distancing requirements, allowing the illness to spread.
The governor's move came shortly after the Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday reported 4,906 new cases of COVID-19 in the state and 23 more deaths from the illness and its complications. Case counts have surged in the last week and the state has reported a tightening of available hospital and ICU bed space as the number of Minnesotans requiring critical care for the disease grows.
New guidance for social gatherings and events was also included in the new orders, and those in violation were set to face fines and prison time. State officials said there would not be active enforcement but encouraged residents to comply to limit COVID-19's spread.
- Weddings and funeral receptions would be capped at 50 people after Nov. 27 and the cap would drop to 25 people on Dec. 11, under the new guidelines. Formal wedding, funeral and other religious ceremonies would be able to continue at higher, existing attendance levels as long as houses of worship or other venues complied with state regulations.
- Social gatherings will see a limit of 10 participants for both indoor and outdoor events and state officials said indoor gatherings shouldn't include people from more than three households.
- At bars and restaurants, in-person dining or drinking orders would need to end at 10 p.m. though takeout orders could continue. Bars or restaurants with counter-only service would be allowed to complete orders at a counter if patrons wear masks and return to their tables after ordering.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday, Nov. 9, released a list of 117 restaurants and bars that were believed to be the source of outbreaks including 2,406 new cases since June. And weddings performed between June and October were believed to have spurred 96 outbreaks, including 851 COVID-19 cases, according to the department. Outbreaks were tracked back to 44 weddings that took place in October.
Department officials said the threshold for an outbreak at an establishment is met when seven people from at least three separate households report visiting one common venue within the month before the onset of their symptoms. Coworkers, teammates or those who have other potential common exposure in other settings are considered separately.
"It is certainly not our intention to demonize any industry or any activity. It's simply important for us to understand what spreads this thing and who gets it and is more likely to spread it," Walz said. "The data shows that a bunch of our outbreaks are coming from these activities."
Small businesses affected by the executive order will be eligible for state grant funding. Walz announced that the state would free up $10 million to support affected businesses.
The state response received mixed review Tuesday as health care groups and concerned citizens called for even more stringent restrictions while business owners and Republican state lawmakers continued their push for reopening more parts of the state.
Minnesota Medical Association President Marilyn Peitso said the restrictions would help doctors and other healthcare professionals to offer care to COVID-19 patients and others seeking care.
"We are seeing, firsthand, the rapid spike in COVID-19 cases," Peitso said. "These are not just statistics, but rather these are our patients, health care professionals, our teachers, our family members, our fellow Minnesotans."
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak said the restrictions were too tough on bar and restaurant owners, many of whom were complying with state rules.
“Unfairly singling out every bar and every restaurant in Minnesota is not a scalpel — it’s a hatchet targeting one of Minnesota’s hardest-hit industries this year," Chesak said. "Bars and restaurants are only affiliated with 2% of the cases, but these new blanket rules across the state will cause more businesses to close, leaving more people unemployed and unable to support their families."
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- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.