REGIONAL- (updated @2:45 p.m May 6) The state’s COVID-19 mask requirement is coming to an end on July 1, and almost all state-imposed pandemic restrictions on businesses, events, and gatherings will be lifted by May 28. The mask requirement will be lifted sooner if 70 percent of eligible Minnesotans receive their first dose of a COVID vaccine.
Gov. Tim Walz announced the changes today at a noon press conference, noting conditions are favorable for the moves.
“We’re going to have a great summer,” Walz said. “We’ve asked much of you, we followed the science, we have tried the best to get this right. Cases are receding, we've protected our health care. Our vaccine progress continues to be the best in the nation.”
The first restrictions to go are those on capacity limits and masking requirements for outdoor dining, events, and other get-togethers, which will be eliminated on Friday at noon. Masks will still be required at large controlled venues with over 500 people.
Also beginning Friday, the state-established mandatory closing time for bars, restaurants, and food and beverage service will be eliminated.
On May 28, remaining capacity and distancing limits will come to an end, including for indoor events and gatherings. Face coverings will still be required for events in controlled spaces that exceed 500 people. There will be no new safety requirements for businesses, though they must maintain plans to keep employees and customers safe.
The general mask requirement could be eliminated sooner than July 1 if the current pace of vaccinations continues or increases. The most recent data show 59.3 percent of eligible Minnesotans have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but the announcement comes as vaccinations have slowed. The state reported an average of roughly 15,200 people each day over the last week who received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is down from a seven-day average of 40,000 during a peak on April 10. Walz turned to a map beside him to illustrate why he believes 70 percent is still within reach.
“Have you seen this map? When they go out and ask folks, ‘Are you likely to get the vaccine,’ the purple color means the highest amount ranging above 90 percent, and Minnesota has the highest uptake, we have the highest desire to get this. We can continue to get this vaccine, and every one of those doses protects not only you as the person getting the shot, it protects the neighbor, the community and returns us to normal.”
While Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm stressed that efforts to reach unvaccinated Minnesotans will intensify in the coming weeks, DEED Commissioner Steve Groves argued that vaccinations will help businesses recover from the economic damage of the pandemic.
“The more Minnesotans who are vaccinated, the stronger our collective consumer confidence is, the more people that want to get out and take jobs where they're open, that more people are going to want to fill restaurants and concert venues and sports venues, all the things we love,” Groves said. “Vaccines are the pathway for us to get there. Quite simply vaccines equal confidence and confidence equals economic growth.”
The announcement drew immediate criticism from Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, who said the reopening plan is another unnecessary delay in returning to normal.
“My reaction today is simple: Not good enough and not soon enough,” Gazelka said in a press release posted to Twitter. “The emergency is over and the mandates need to end. I said in January, when the vaccines were available to young, healthy people, the emergency is over. We’ve been there for weeks. It’s about time the Governor recognizes that vaccinations were the key. And while Minnesota stumbled mightily out of the gate to vaccinate the most vulnerable, we now have an abundant supply and appointments.”
This story will be updated at www.timberjay.com as development warrant. A complete story with additional comments from Gov. Walz and other state officials will be published in the next edition of the Timberjay.