'We're beating this thing': Walz loosens restrictions on restaurants, events and Twins

The dial turns come as nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans had been vaccinated, including more than 70% of seniors.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz gestures while talking at the Korean Veterans Memorial in Duluth on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14, 2021. A former history teacher, Walz said that he was looking at past history to help him move forward in the difficult time after the violence at the U.S. Capitol building last week in Washington, D.C. (Clint Austin /

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday, March 12, announced sweeping plans for reopening businesses, houses of worship and social gatherings just as Minnesota was set to mark the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The governor announced that restaurants, bars, salons and entertainment venues would see their attendance restrictions bumped up starting at noon Monday, March 15. And constraints on social gatherings, parties, religious ceremonies and youth sports would also be loosened, he said.

The move to relax COVID-19 mitigation measures comes as the state has reported that nearly 1.2 million Minnesotans have been vaccinated against the illness and new cases and hospitalizations have trended downward. Vaccinations have been administered faster than state officials expected and as their rollout continues, Walz and state health officials said the state could ease up on restrictions.

Masking and social distancing would still be required in many of the reopened settings under the adjusted guidance.

"We're beating this thing. We are going to win. And maybe today is not the end, but it sure is the beginning of the end," Walz said during a televised address. "We're turning the dial up to a point where normalcy is on the horizon."


Walz also gave the OK for larger events such as Minnesota Twins games, reunions and weddings, with additional precautions in place. The Minnesota Executive Council will consider the changes Monday and vote on whether to approve them.

Here is a breakdown of the proposed changes:

  • Bars and restaurants would be able to increase their occupancy from 50% to 75% with a cap of 250 people and groups seated at the bar can include up to four. The capacity applies separately to indoor and outdoor seating areas.
  • Gyms, fitness centers and swimming pools could allow up to 50% capacity, a boost from the current 25% limit. And outdoor classes can include up to 50 people.
  • Occupancy restrictions on barbers and salons are set to lift but social distancing would remain mandatory.
  • Indoor and outdoor entertainment venues could have up to 50% occupancy with a limit of 250 people.
  • Outdoor social gatherings could include up to 50 people, under the new guidelines, and indoor gatherings could include up to 15 with no restrictions on the number of households involved.
  • Groups of up to 50 people could gather to watch outdoor youth sports.
  • Religious services and weddings would see occupancy caps lifted but social distancing requirements remain in place.
  • The new guidelines also hiked capacity for large venues. Those settings would see capacity boosted to 50%, with up to 250 attendees. And starting April 1, outdoor venues could reopen with a cap of 25% of their capacity over 500. Settings such as Target Field could reopen for games but with a limit of 10,000. Nonseated outdoor settings would face a 15% additional capacity limit up to 10,000 people.
  • Indoor sporting arenas and concert venues could also reopen with capacity limits in place.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the dial turns could spur additional spread of COVID-19, but if Minnesotans keep up mitigation measures such as masking, social distancing and staying home if they feel sick, they could decrease the chance of getting infected.
"We know we're increasing opportunities for interaction (and that) increases risk until all of us are vaccinated and until we've really snuffed out this virus," Malcolm said. "But we know that we can do it. Even as we increase our interactions with each other, paying attention to these basic prevention measures is the thing to let that progress continue."

The news of laxer COVID-19 restrictions met mixed responses on Friday with some celebrating the news, others calling for additional reopenings and a third group raising red flags about how the looser rules could allow COVID-19 to spread further.

"Let's take our wins, everybody. This is a good day," Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, told reporters. Baker said he was glad to see Walz roll back restrictions but urged the governor to provide a tentative timeline for further reopenings and asked that lawmakers be able to weigh in on those decisions. “I’m cautiously optimistic but we are still begging to be at the table to have these conversations."

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement celebrated Walz's decision as one of "more and more reasons to be hopeful and optimistic that we are nearing the end of this pandemic," though she still urged Minnesotans to stay cautious.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce along with a coalition of dozens of business groups called on Walz to set out a fuller plan for reopening as state and federal officials laid out a May 1 target to get Americans eligible for a vaccine. The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association said the changes likely wouldn't affect many restaurants and bars and echoed calls for a roadmap to full reopening.

“Governor, if other states can develop detailed reopening plans with health-based metrics, dates, and other milestones, why can’t Minnesota?" MLBA Executive Director Tony Chesak asked in a news release.


Meanwhile, the head of the Minnesota Medical Association on Friday said the disease continued to pose a threat to the state and urged Minnesotans to be careful as the restrictions lifted.

"The virus variants that have been found in the state and across the country demand caution and have the potential to slow and even reverse our progress," MMA President Dr. Marilyn Peitso said. "We recognize that Minnesotans are tired of this pandemic. Healthcare workers are tired, too. Please help us get over the finish line."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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