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Update: Governor Walz addresses Minnesota and announces 4-week ban on public social gatherings

Nov 18, 2020 06:55AM ● By Editor
Gov. Tim Walz stands during a press conference with health care workers and state public health officials, in which speakers urged the public to take steps to combat the spread of COVID-19, on Monday in St. Paul.  Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

From Minnesota Public Radio News - November 18, 2020

Gov. Tim Walz’s new four-week COVID-19 order prohibits all in-person social gatherings with people outside your household for four weeks. It restricts bar and restaurant service to takeout and delivery. Theaters and gyms must close, although retail stores can be open. 

Organized sports for youth and adults are on hold. Collegiate athletics and professional sports can continue but with new spectator limits. Places of worship and child care can stay open with “proper precautions in place.” 

“We’re at a dangerous point in this pandemic,” Walz told Minnesotans in his address announcing the new restrictions. He warned the virus was spreading exponentially now across the state, putting immense pressure on health care workers and hospitals that are dealing with a surge of hospital admissions tied to COVID-19.

He expressed hope that these new curbs would save lives until a vaccine was widely available,, and that the process of vaccinating people might begin before the latest restrictions ended.

He acknowledged that wouldn’t make the next few weeks any easier.

Weddings, funerals, and other similar celebrations can be held with the current rules in place, but all receptions and gatherings connected to these ceremonies must be canceled or postponed, according to the order.

Schools will continue to operate under the current guidance, which allows district to shift between in-person, distance, and hybrid learning depending on the local conditions of the virus.

The new restrictions are set to kick in at the close of business Friday, so the dine-in prohibition would start Saturday. Gym closures would kick in midnight Friday. 

The changes would end on Dec. 18.

The tough new curbs come as Minnesota struggles to get control of a rapidly worsening outbreak not limited to just one region or demographic group, like earlier in the pandemic. 

Caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths are climbing largely unabated. The Health Department on Wednesday said 67 more Minnesotans had died, a single-day record that pushed the state’s pandemic death toll above 3,000.another; there were 5,102 newly confirmed or probable cases.

Officials believe many of the current outbreaks are being fueled now by the kinds of informal get-togethers with friends and family that multiply during the November and December holidays. 

COVID-19 cases in Minnesota by outbreak source

State health investigators have identified bars, restaurants, fitness centers, gyms, youth sports and social gatherings as sources of COVID-19 transmission in the current outbreak.

Still, news of the new restrictions fell hard on the state’s restaurant, bar and hospitality business, which was still reeling from restrictions earlier in the pandemic.

Hours before the announcement, though, leaders of the state's hospitality industry were already pushing back, warning many bars and eateries won’t survive the monthlong restrictions.

“Today’s action will push many small restaurants, food service and other hospitality businesses over the cliff," Liz Rammer, CEO of the trade group Hospitality Minnesota, said in a statement.

She called on Minnesota to provide immediate financial aid "or these businesses will not be here in four weeks."

Minnesota’s COVID-19 numbers — its daily and cumulative tallies of infections, testing, hospitalization and death — are bad and getting worse. 

More than 1,700 people are in Minnesota hospitals now because of COVID-19, with more than 350 needing intensive care. The state’s hospitals, short on staff and capacity, are bracing themselves for what they expect to be a wave of new patients, new cases, new ICU admissions in the coming weeks, as people who have fallen ill during the recent surge get sicker.

All week, state officials have been pleading with Minnesotans not to gather with anyone outside their immediate household for Thanksgiving. They also asked college students to consider not going home for the holiday.

Walz acknowledged that the “pause” in youth sports would be especially hard for kids and families.

Hours before the announcement, Paynesville football coach and activities director Max Meagher said he and his staff have tried to prepare athletes to end their seasons — and in some cases their final weeks of high school sports.

“We talked about that a little bit yesterday at practice already. And the message to them was that, you know, that we as a coaching staff, we love them. We appreciate everything that they put forward,” Meagher said. “We recognize that they were in a difficult position this year, asked to sacrifice and to do things obviously for the good of, you know, all of society."

Bars and restaurants, too, have been tied to outbreaks statewide

In March, Walz imposed restrictions limiting bars and restaurants to takeout only in the state’s initial efforts at flattening the coronavirus curve, then gradually loosened restrictions as the summer wore on.

But in the spring, workers whose jobs were eliminated or furloughed were able to receive $600 in relief from the federal CARES Act, the economic stimulus bill enacted in March. Since then, that relief has expired, and this time around, impacts on the hospitality industry could be more financially painful.

To read the updated original article and see related stories, follow this link to the MPR News website.
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