ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a scattering of new measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 on Tuesday, most of them targeted at bars and restaurants.
Rumblings about new antiviral measures started to circulate Monday. On Tuesday morning ahead of an afternoon press conference, the Democratic governor announced plans to move the state’s 2 a.m. bar close time to 10 p.m., cut restaurant and bar capacities to half and restrict the size of weddings, funerals and other gatherings.
Bars will also be required to stop counter service and disallow games like pool and darts. The measures, Walz said, are meant to curb the virus’ spread among young Minnesotans. He cited data indicating a rise in bar-related outbreaks late in the evenings along with a spate of transmissions through small social gatherings. Walz also put limits on those, asking that gatherings both indoors and outdoors include no more than 10 people from three or fewer households.
Walz and Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, encouraged Minnesotans to patronize local restaurants and other businesses safely, through take-out and internet business. They also announced the addition of $10 million to Minnesota’s small-business relief fund, projecting that it would help about 1,000 businesses keep afloat through the pandemic.
“This has never been about public health versus the economy. Those things, as we’ve seen, are so tied at the hip, we can’t begin a real economic recovery until this pandemic is under control,” Grove said.
He added that jobs had grown since an initial collapse at the beginning of the pandemic but warned the holiday season would likely make or break many local businesses.
“We come today with a sense of urgency to continue to see that job growth,” he said, encouraging safe shopping and dining.
Bars and restaurants have been linked to 117 outbreaks in Minnesota involving seven or more people, half of those in October. Weddings have also been a problem area, with 851 infections linked to 96 weddings, 44 of them in October.
The new restrictions also took aim at those, setting a 10 p.m. curfew on weddings and receptions and limiting the events to 50 people, with another reduction to 25 people set for mid-December. While he recognized the effect this could have on the lengthy process of wedding planning, Walz said, “Our intention is not to make that difficult for you. Our intention is to make that day special without an outbreak of Covid.”
“I feel like the guy in ‘Footloose.’ No dancing, no fun, no whatever. That is not my intention,” Walz said. “It’s no fun. I’m as frustrated as you are. We should have broke the back of this thing months ago in this country, but we have not.”
Covid-19 case rates have been rising in Minnesota since September, with a dramatic spike starting in mid-October bringing new cases to thousands a day. ICU beds in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were at 98% capacity last week, with Greater Minnesota not far behind at 92%.
The state has seen a total of 189,681 confirmed cases and 2,698 deaths. Over 106,000 of those cases have been in the seven-county metro area, and almost 15,000 people have been hospitalized with the respiratory disease.
Walz said that while such a spike was bad news, it was predictable.
“I wish I could tell you that this was unexpected, but it was not,” he said. “The fear is, once you lose control, once you go above 5% positivity rate and you start to get to where we are today… you start to see that line go absolutely vertical.”
He added, “That type of spread, and that type of spike, will continue unless we make mitigation efforts.”
After the conclusion of a 51-day stay-at-home order from March through mid-May, Minnesota maintained a positivity rate around 5% for most of the summer, but last week that rate rose to around 10%.
Walz also touted efforts to expand testing, including a new laboratory in Minneapolis’ Civic Center and 11 more in armories across the state.
“Almost all Minnesotans are now within 30 minutes of two options to test, and this is barrier-free, pain-free, cost-free,” the governor said.
Minnesota is one of several Upper Midwest states struggling to contain the virus. Neighboring North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin are all seeing a thousand or more new cases a day, with Wisconsin leading all five with 4,536 new cases on Monday. Minnesota takes third in that list, with 3,926 new cases that day. Iowa landed between the Gopher and Badger states with 4,327.
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