Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz will end all of his statewide coronavirus restrictions by July 1 — or sooner, if 70 percent of residents older than 16 get vaccinated, his office announced Thursday.
Yes, all restrictions: restaurant closing hours, church capacity, 6-foot distancing, and yes, the statewide mask mandate.
The July 1 date will be the final phase of a three-phase plan that will begin Friday with easing of restaurant and bar closing times and mask requirements for many outdoor events.
Walz will discuss the news in a statewide address at noon that will be streamed live on the governor’s YouTube channel.
Walz and state health officials agree the rollbacks are supported by the current state of the pandemic in Minnesota, where cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling as vaccinations continue to rise, with those fully vaccinated surpassing the 2 million mark Wednesday. At the current pace, the state is on track to reach the 70 percent threshold by the end of June, Walz said.
The state appears to be on the downslide of a a spring surge of cases driven by the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in England. Nonetheless, the virus is rampaging across parts of the the globe, especially in South America and India, raising the odds of more dangerous mutations that could evade protection offered by existing vaccines.
Businesses, institutions, schools and other venues will still be allowed to continue restrictions — and many will be advised to, especially if they involve children who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools, for example, will continue to follow state guidelines.
But Thursday’s announcements signify an endgame — at least for now — to the most stringent order, which Walz, like his peers across the nation and world, has ordered with the force of law via executive fiat allowed under peacetime emergency laws.
Walz did not say he would relinquish those emergency powers, although he has begun talks with lawmakers on the idea.
PHASE 1: RESTAURANTS, BARS EASE FRIDAY
The first phase will begin Friday with restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues.
Starting at noon Friday, Walz’s new actions will:
- Remove limits for outdoor dining, events, and other get-togethers, and end the mask requirement outdoors except at large venues with over 500 people.
- Eliminate the state-established mandatory closing time for bars, restaurants, and food and beverage service at other places of public accommodation.
PHASE 2: MAY 28, MORE EASING
The second phase will begin May 28. Remaining capacity and distancing limits will come to an end, including for indoor events and gatherings. The requirements that will remain include:
- Face coverings indoors and for outdoor events that exceed 500 people.
- There will be no new safety requirements for businesses, though they must maintain their plans to keep their employees and customers safe – as they have from the beginning of the pandemic – guided only by a minimal universal state guidance document.
PHASE 3: EVERYTHING ELSE
The third phase will begin once 70 percent of Minnesotans age 16 years and older – 3,087,404 Minnesotans – get at least one dose of the vaccine, but no later than July 1.
At that point, the remaining face covering requirement and the requirement for preparedness plans will end. Local jurisdictions and entities may set their own mask policies.
“Our nation-leading vaccination effort has put us in a strong position to safely transition toward life as we used to know it,” Walz said in a statement. “The pandemic is not over and we have work to do. But from the State Fairgrounds, to doctor’s offices, to retrofitted Metro Transit buses that deliver vaccines where they’re most needed, Minnesotans now have more opportunities than ever to get the vaccine when and where they want to. As cases recede, more people get vaccinated every day, and vaccines are readily available to all who want it, we can now confidently and safely set out our path back to normal.”