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COVID In Minnesota: Gov. Walz Unveils Restrictions On Social Gatherings, Restaurants, Gyms, Youth Sports

Originally published on Wednesday, Nov. 18  | Latest COVID News

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced new COVID-19 restrictions that will impact social gatherings, restaurants, gyms and sports for four weeks.

The restrictions are in effect between Friday at 11:59 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 18. In-person social gatherings with people outside of your household are prohibited. Bars and restaurants will have to go take-out only. Gyms and entertainment spaces will need to close, and wedding receptions, private parties and celebrations will also be restricted. Adult and youth sports will be put on pause, but college and pro sports are exempt.

Schools will continue to operate under Walz's Safe Learning Plan, which shifts students between in-person, distance and hybrid learning depending on the local spread of the virus.

Retail businesses and grocery stores will remain open at full capacity, while salons, barbershops and places of worship will stay open at half capacity.

WATCH: Gov. Walz's Q&A On COVID Restrictions

All outdoor recreation areas like skating rinks, ski hills and parks can still operate, but their indoor areas will be closed.

Walz said that while the state has built up its bed capacity and supplies of personal protective equipment since the lockdown, doctors, nurses and other care staff are now increasingly falling ill because of community spread.

Dial Back 11/18
Credit: Minnesota Department of Health

"I understand it's not easy and it's not fair," Walz said. "But it's a sacrifice that we need to make. If we don't do that, and we continue to spread, we will with absolute certainty put our hospitals at risk, and those that need the care, as well as the care providers."

Walz has said repeatedly that the decisions are based on data. Research shows that COVID spreads rapidly in places where people gather for extended periods of time, especially when they do not wear masks.

"I know the upcoming holidays make it incredibly difficult to stay home and stay apart, but this is how we keep the people we love safe and healthy," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said. "Take it from me, no celebration is worth an empty seat that will never be filled."

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Originally, the restrictions began in March to prepare hospitals so that they could care for those ill with the virus. Now, months later, Walz says one of the major reasons for the new restrictions is because of the immense strain placed on health care workers.

Late Wednesday morning, Minnesota health officials reported 67 deaths due to COVID, and the state's death toll crossed 3,000. The rate of hospitalizations has also never been higher; there were 27 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents as of Nov. 9.

Critical Care Beds
Credit: Minnesota Department of Health

It took 29 weeks to reach 100,000 infections in the state, and just six weeks after that to reach 200,000. The state projects it will hit the 300,000 case mark sometime next week.

"The velocity that this is moving now compared to any other time is simply stunning," Walz said. "It would be easy to tell you this is going to be over but it is not. It's going to be a very difficult four weeks."

MORE: 900 Mayo Clinic Staff In MN And WI Test Positive For COVID In Two Weeks

Walz also sent a letter Wednesday to Congressional leaders for federal aid.

"We are in desperate need of additional, flexible funding ... to keep as many people safe and healthy as possible," Walz said.

To support the small businesses that are struggling, Walz also announced an additional $10 million in Small Business Relief Grants. The money will support an additional 1,000 businesses that have applied for the grant program.

"To all Minnesotans who are struggling to get by, I know this pandemic is devastating," said Walz. "This pandemic is not fair. We need federal support to help keep our businesses afloat, our workers paid, and our families with food on the table. I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for that support that you need and deserve."

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Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said the state is ready for a surge in new applications for unemployment insurance and will be able to borrow the money from the federal government. The governor announced $10 million in small business relief grants last week, and on Wednesday asked the state's congressional delegation for help in securing more federal aid.

"Let's be very clear: this is the federal government's major responsibility. They have failed at it," Walz told reporters. "And I don't care whether it's the current administration or the incoming new administration, Congress needs to figure out how to make sure that that aid gets there."

Health department figures show that over 4,100 coronavirus cases have been linked to outbreaks at restaurants and bars since June 10, while at least 950 cases have been linked with weddings, 780 with sports and nearly 750 with gyms. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said those statistics are an undercount because they don't reflect spread beyond the primary cases. Those cases have taken a sharp upturn in recent weeks, she said.

A number of statements were issued Wednesday morning and afternoon in anticipation of Walz's announcement, including Hospitality Minnesota:

"Today's action will push many small restaurants, foodservice and other hospitality businesses over the cliff. Hospitality Minnesota is calling for immediate financial assistance from the State or these businesses will not be here in four weeks. The vast majority of hospitality businesses have taken every step asked of them by the state throughout the pandemic, resulting in significant financial investments in new equipment and PPE as revenue plummeted. They have done this in order to survive, keep people employed and continue contributing to our economy. We call on state leaders to act immediately to provide significant state financial aid to this devastated industry; we cannot wait for the feds to act in February or beyond."

Also, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association called the news "heartbreaking," adding "the impact will be devastating. It will most certainly mean significant increased unemployment and further permanent loss of our bars and restaurants across Minnesota. The hospitality industry has shifted and invested heavily to protect both staff and patrons, and is still barely afloat. The short timeline we are now given for indoor closure will also result in unused inventory left to perish and leave small businesses further in the red."

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Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber asked in a letter to Walz that he "immediately use the CARES Act money to provide Minnesota's small businesses financial relief." Hagedorn separately stated the restrictions are an "unnecessary threat to our economy, livelihoods and society, and offer little benefit to those most vulnerable." Hagedorn asked Walz to yield his emergency powers, even though for the first time since the pandemic began, Minnesota Senate Republicans did not hold a vote on ending his emergency powers at the special session on Thursday.

To further bolster the argument for more restrictions, Walz included on a call on Tuesday those who have been hit personally with COVID-19, including former Republican State Rep. Nick Zerwas, who is still recovering. Zerwas made it clear he'd been against the governor's shutdowns and restrictions before. Not any more.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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