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Gov. Walz To Allow Outdoor Dining, Announces Next Steps For Reopening Gyms And Schools

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Saying the state isn't "yet out of the woods", Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced changes to the current COVID-19 dial-back restrictions Wednesday, including adjustments for restaurants, gyms, youth sports, and elementary education.

As part of the new restrictions, bars, restaurants, and breweries must remain closed for indoor dining, but can open for outdoor service at 50% capacity or up to 100 people. Tables are limited to four people, and must be at least six feet apart.

RELATED: Hospitality Groups Call Gov's Expected Extension To Indoor Dining Pause 'Shameful And Unjust'

Inside entertainment venues, event spaces, and similar establishments will have to remain closed until Jan. 11.

Outdoor entertainment venues may open at 25% capacity, up to 100 people at a time. If food and drink is served, everyone must be seated.

Gov walz restaurants
(credit: State of Minnesota)

Gyms and fitness studios may open for individual exercise at 25% capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, with at least 12 feet of distance between individuals. Additional guidance on group classes, which may begin on Jan. 4, will follow.

Youth and adult sport practices may resume on Jan. 4. Organized sport activity is no longer directly tied to county case data or school learning model. The Minnesota State High School league announced Wednesday evening that in-person winter sports practices will begin on that day.

Indoor social gatherings are not recommended, but Minnesotans may gather inside with one other household up to 10 people. If people are outside, the gathering may include two additional households with a maximum of 15 people starting on Dec. 19. Masking and social distancing is strongly encouraged.


The governor also updated the state's Safe Learning Plan - which outlines learning models and school safety protocols - to allow every elementary school across the state to operate in an in-person learning model starting on Jan. 18.

Schools must still implement strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including offering regular testing requiring staff to wear face shields and masks.

School Slide
(credit: State of Minnesota)

"The sun is rising across Minnesota. vaccines have arrived and the light at the end of the tunnel is much brighter today than it was at the beginning of the four-week dial back," said Walz. "This way forward will help bridge the gap to vaccination by continuing to protect hospital capacity while prioritizing getting our kids back in the classroom and supporting Minnesotan's quality of life."

Teachers' union Education Minnesota says it supports the new path to reopening school buildings, but only if safety rules are enforced and the virus continues to withdraw.

"For months now, educators have said they wanted to get back into their classrooms with their students, but only when it's safe for everyone to do so," Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said. "If districts meet the new high bar for safety for students and staff, and there are swift, serious consequences for the few employers who might cut corners, this plan could get more buildings open for the littlest learners."

RELATED: As Walz Announces Loosened COVID Restrictions, GOP Argues They Should Go Further

In the extension and modification of the executive order, Walz says despite postive signs during the pandemic -- including lower daily cases and vaccinations beginning in the state -- the most recent data still shows alarming levels of community spread. The state is coming off a surge of COVID-19 cases and is approaching 4,500 cumulative deaths.


Also Wednesday, Walz signed into law a $216 million economic relief package for small businesses and workers affected by the pandemic. Walz said it's an important step to take while the state continues to push for federal relief.

The package will provided targeted aid to small businesses and extend unemployment benefits.

RELATED: Minnesota Legislature Votes To Pass $216M COVID Relief Package

"Today, because of the commitment of Minnesotans and our businesses to keep our families and our neighbors safe, we can carefully begin to turn a corner," said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. "As the Governor signed the business relief package into law today, it will get much-needed to funding to businesses and additional Unemployment Insurance benefits to workers affected by this pandemic."

Grove told WCCO's Marielle Mohs that money for small businesses will go to them directly and they do not need to apply for the help. This applies to businesses that have lost 30% of business due to the restrictions.

He also told her that even businesses that defied the governor's orders by opening would get that money, but he did say those businesses are also opening themselves up for possible fines by opening against the executive order.


Dan Benowitz, who oversees several Twin Cities restaurants, including Pub 819 in Hopkins and The Block in St. Louis Park, said his restaurants are preparing to open outdoor dining over the weekend.

"We do have a little bit of an advantage. We have tents that we purchased years ago," he said. Benowitz says they're lucky to already have tents and heaters, but if a restaurant doesn't have the equipment, it won't be worth doing outdoor dining.

"Upwards of five to ten thousand dollars just to rent a tent, so if you weigh the costs, it just doesn't make sense at all," he said.

Life Time CEO Bahram Akradi said he was grateful that gyms could reopen. He was one of the many gym owners who fought to reopen their businesses.

"I think the restrictions are really tough, but we're grateful they're allowing clubs to open in some fashion," he said.

Akradi pushed hard over the last four weeks to get the governor to reconsider his closure on gyms, arguing they're safe, they keep people healthy, and their clubs lead to less that 1% of community spread. But he wanted to make it clear that the virus is real and should be taken seriously.

"All businesses, even those with no restrictions, need to be very cautious making everyone wear masks, they need to make sure there is ample social distancing," he said.

Despite the quick turnaround time, Akradi said that Life Time locations throughout the state will reopen first thing Saturday morning.

Hospitality Minnesota released a statement Wednesday evening, saying the organization, "believes restaurants, bars, pools, and event spaces should be allowed to operate safely with the same social distancing and enhanced sanitation protocols they were following before the shutdown."

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