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In this Nov. 10 photo, Gov. Tim Walz announced a series of new guidelines to combat COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor)

Minnesota requires early closure for bars, restaurants

As COVID-19 cases surge statewide, Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday announced a series of new guidelines targeted at social settings, including bars and restaurants.

Effective 10 p.m. Friday, Minnesota restaurants and bars will be required to close 10 p.m.  to 4 a.m. every day, although their takeout and delivery services can still operate during that time. New capacity restrictions for private social gatherings and events, like weddings and funerals, will also go into effect later this week.

The regulations come as the state sees new confirmed coronavirus cases increase at historic rates, while hospital capacity in several regions of the state, including the metro area, reach above 90%.

“I have to, just as I said in those early days, be absolutely candid. In Minnesota … we’re in the midst of a significant surge in coronavirus cases,” Walz said in a press conference Tuesday. “I wish I could tell you this was unexpected. But it was not.”

A majority of the state’s cases, around 71%, can be linked to social settings, Walz said.

Both indoor and outdoor capacity at bars and restaurants will be restricted at 50% starting Friday, with a cap of no more than 150 people. New guidelines stipulate that patrons must be seated at tables, and can’t participate in bar games that require standing.

Counter seating will also be closed, unless the establishment offers only counter service, Walz said.

Starting Friday at 10 p.m., private social gatherings will be limited to 10 people for indoor and outdoor settings. There will be a limit of three households allowed at private gatherings, a number that includes the host.

Receptions and other events will also be time restricted starting Friday. These events can’t be held between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and will be limited to 50 people on Nov. 27 and then 25 people on Dec. 1.

The new guidelines don’t affect the actual wedding, funeral or ceremony, only related reception or celebrations, Walz said.

Along with new guidelines comes an expansion of the state’s Small Business Relief Grant Program. An additional $10 million has been proposed for the grant program, and would be awarded to around 1,000 businesses.

Business can use the funding to pay bills and employees, Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said in the press conference.

The new round of restrictions are being implement during a time with fewer social safety nets, like additional unemployment payments, the federal economic impact payments and the paycheck protection program, Grove said.

It’s not clear how many jobs could be affected by the new regulations, as the new guidelines don’t completely shut down business operations, he said.

The state has lost over 300,000 jobs in the pandemic, half of which have been regained in recent months, Grove said.

“We really believe that by taking targeted action today, we have a shot at preventing long-term harm in the economy,” Grove said.

Walz noted the new guidelines alone aren’t enough to curb rising cases. They must be combined with face mask use, social distancing and hand washing, he said.

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