Gov. Tim Walz will respond to the surging COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday with dial back measures that close bars and restaurants at 10 p.m. and restrict the sizes of weddings, funerals and indoor and outdoor gatherings, according to two state officials briefed on the details.
Walz will explain the moves in detail in a 2 p.m. address, but briefed some lawmakers, state officials and business leaders earlier in the day.
In addition to early closing times, counter service will not be permitted at bars and social games such as darts and pool will not be allowed, according to the sources, which spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to disclose the details. Takeout service can continue after 10 p.m., though, and service at cafeteria-style counters can continue.
Group gatherings will be limited to 10 people, indoors and outdoors, from no more than three households.
Wedding and funeral crowd sizes also will be limited due to state health data showing that those events have spawned numerous outbreaks this fall and summer. The reductions will be phased in to allow for immediate events in the coming days to proceed as planned.
Walz on Monday said the 51-day statewide lockdown was a “blunt” but effective approach this spring that reduced viral transmission and bought hospitals time to prepare. The governor said health officials have learned since the start of the pandemic how and where the virus spreads, reducing the need for another wholesale stay-at-home order.
“It makes sense to us now to target those much more surgically, much more aggressively, than a statewide stay-at-home order,” Walz said, “because at this point in time, we’ve learned we can do retail, we can do education, some of it in person, if we’re able to test, contain and contact trace those folks to get [their infections] isolated.”
The announcement came as the Minnesota Department of Health reported another 23 deaths and 4,906 infections with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Totals in the pandemic are 2,698 deaths and 189,681 confirmed and probable infections.
A record 1,224 people with COVID-19 were admitted to hospital beds in Minnesota, including 249 people needing intensive care due to breathing problems or complications.
Doctors and nurses in Minnesota are reporting a looming shortage of beds, and long wait-times for patients in emergency rooms, due to staffing shortages that occur when workers suffer infections.
Neighboring North Dakota has the nation’s highest rate of new infections, and its governor recently announced that nurses with asymptomatic infections can continue to work rather than complete quarantines and leave hospitals and clinics short-staffed.
Walz on Monday had said he will reveal data that supports the moves, including figures showing more bar-related outbreaks later in the evening when people become less cautious. People aged 18 to 35 have been at lower risk for severe COVID-19 illness, but have been involved in spreading the virus at large social engagements.
Bars and restaurants in Minnesota have been linked to 117 outbreaks involving seven or more people at bars or restaurants. Half were reported in October alone, according to a summary of group and social outbreaks released Monday by the state health department.
Ninety-six weddings have been linked to 851 primary infections — with attendees spreading the virus secondarily to others. That includes 44 weddings in October.
Informal group gatherings in backyards and garages have been problems as well, though more so in July and August. These gatherings have been linked to 71 outbreaks and 599 primary infections with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Some business organizations quickly denounced the move after months of closures and reduced operating capacities that have gutted their profits.
“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,” said Tony Chesak of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars, restaurants and liquor stores. He said the industry would need financial relief to counter the economic harm.
New restrictions include a reduction in total capacity in bars and restaurants to either 150 people or 50% of their fire code capacities, whichever number is lower. The current guidance allows for up to 250 people, or 50% of fire code capacities, and will reportedly remain in effect for religious worship services.
Others were pragmatic in their response. Anticipating new restrictions, Lindsay Pohlad temporarily closed the Grocer’s Table restaurant in Wayzata on Sunday and planned to reopen at a reorganized and reduced capacity on Wednesday.
“We didn’t know whether the governor was going to say no to indoor dining, so we needed to take a pause to look at our numbers,” Pohlad said.
Early closure “is probably the first step of a couple changes that are going to happen,” she added. “I think we’re all just hanging in there to get through this winter, and holding on to the idea of a bright spring.”
Staff writers Sharyn Jackson and Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this article.