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Gov. Walz relaxes restrictions on bars, restaurants, entertainment venues

Bar areas can also reopen with limits on customers and a 10 p.m. closing time.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz said restaurants and bars across Minnesota will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity for indoor service starting Monday.

A news release from the governor's office says additional restrictions that will be in place include a 150-person maximum capacity, and that groups can include no more than six people who must be at least six feet away from other parties. 

Bar service will be allowed to resume with customers in groups of two, sitting at tables that are property spaced. People will be able to order at the bar, but then are required to return to their tables. Service must stop by 10 p.m. 

The governor and state health officials have said in the past that tracing revealed the hours of 9 p.m. to close were prime time for the spread of COVID-19 in places that serve alcohol.

RELATED: Restaurant owners anticipate Gov. Tim Walz's announcement on looser indoor dining restrictions

This afternoon's announcement will share that other entertainment venues like bowling alleys, movie theaters, museums and other establishments will be allowed to open at 25% capacity, with no more than 150 people inside a venue at once. 

Originally, Walz planned a 3 p.m. press conference in addition to his announcement. However, he announced it would be postponed after a pro-Trump protest escalated into a breach of the U.S. Capitol. 

Gym capacity remains at 25% where it currently stands, but facility capacity expands to 150 people, and class sizes increase to 25 people if proper distancing can be enforced. 

Credit: KARE

“The situation in Minnesota is undeniably better than it was last month,” Governor Walz said. “We have reasons to be optimistic, and Minnesotans’ sacrifice and commitment to their communities helped change the pandemic’s trajectory and saved lives. But we need to protect the progress we’ve made.”

The governor's office says wedding receptions and other private events can resume, but with limits. 

  • If food and drink are served at the event, then they are limited to two households or 10 people indoors and three households or 15 people outdoors. 
  • If there is no food or drink, they are covered by event venue guidelines. Any related ceremony – like a wedding or funeral ceremony – is guided by rules for ceremonies and places of worship.
  • Places of worship remain open at 50% capacity but without an overall maximum capacity.

The current restrictions limiting restaurants and bars to outdoor seating and takeout only is scheduled to expire this Sunday. The newly relaxed restrictions come as tens of thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans and front line workers have received their first dose of the vaccine, COVID-19 case numbers are trending down, hospitalizations are declining and kids are preparing to head back to school.

On early Wednesday afternoon, Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan released a statement criticizing Walz's decision as "more of the same of his haphazard, back and forth approach."

“Governor Walz is completely out of touch with the challenges we face to support our families and live our lives," Carnahan's statement read. "A resignation before causing more harm is certainly in order.”

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which supports the state's small liquor businesses (including liquor stores, bars, and restaurants that serve alcohol) also released a response to Walz's decision. 

"As the numbers in Minnesota have been trending very favorably for a dial turn to the right, we appreciate Governor Walz recognizing how seriously our bars and restaurants are taking the pandemic and that keeping our customers and staff members safe is a top priority by turning the dial for indoor dining and service," Executive Director Tony Chesak said in a press release. "We will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature on quick and decisive relief for these struggling businesses. We are and have been ready to open our doors. Welcome back, Minnesota!"

The CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, Liz Rammer, issued a statement in response to the governor's announcement Wednesday:

"It is great news that restaurants, foodservice and other hospitality-related businesses are being allowed to get back to do what they do best. Reopening will bring in much-needed revenue at a desperate time for these businesses. We know that operators committed to following the protocols will keep their guests and workers safe and the data supports this. For an industry that provides 300,000 jobs in Minnesota and is integral to every community in the state, the road to recovery is going to be long and we’re very glad to get started."

In his news release, Walz made it clear that if the COVID situation changes and things head in the wrong direction, restrictions can be re-imposed. 

“As we cautiously adjust the dials to help Minnesotans return to important elements of their daily lives, we continue to monitor where we stand,” Governor Walz continued. “Two months ago the pandemic quickly snowballed from manageable to out-of-control. For our students, our small businesses, and public health, we cannot allow that to happen again.”

KARE 11 is following this story and will have the latest details as they become available.