Bars, restaurants and other venues in Pope County and across Minnesota will reopen with restrictions today (Monday) after the state has seen declines in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

As the COVID-19 situation improves by nearly every metric across Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz last Wednesday announced measures that loosen restrictions on the hospitality industry in the state.   The governor also urged Minnesotans to protect the progress made over the past month.

 “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 announcement came as tens of thousands of Minnesotans have received their first dose of the vaccine, COVID-19 cases are down, hospital bed use is declining, and most elementary students are back to the classroom.

 “As we cautiously adjust the dials to help Minnesotans return to important elements of their daily lives, we continue to monitor where we stand,” Walz said. “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.”

 Right now, COVID-19 is spreading more slowly across Minnesota than two months ago. Emphasizing need to remain cautious, the governor reopened more activities.  Starting today, Monday, Jan. 11:

•Indoor dining at bars and restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 150 people. Parties of no more than six people must remain six feet from other parties; bar seating is open to parties of two; reservations are required; and establishments must close dine-in service by 10 p.m.

•Gym capacity remains capped at 25 percent but maximum capacity increases to 150 and classes can increase to 25 people, assuming distancing can be observed. Machines and people must maintain 9 feet of distance. Face coverings are required.

•Outdoor events and entertainment continue at 25 percent capacity, but maximum capacity increases to 250 people. Social distancing is required.

•Indoor events and entertainment – like bowling alleys, movie theaters, and museums – may open at 25 percent, with no more than 150 people in each area of the venue. Face coverings are required, and they may not offer food service after 10 p.m.

•Youth and adult organized sports have resumed practice as of January 4 and games resume January 14 with spectators, following the appropriate capacity limits for indoor or outdoor venues. Inter-region tournaments and out of state play are discouraged.

•Pools opened on January 4 for some activity and may now open, like gyms, at 25 percent capacity.

•Wedding receptions and other private parties may resume 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.

As some restrictions loosen, Minnesota faces challenges to protecting the recent progress made. Those include:

•Some other states are seeing the virus surge.

•Public health experts, including Dr. Fauci, are warning of the potential for a post-holiday wave of cases.

•Concern remains about the emergence of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant spreading around the world.

•As the weather gets colder and Minnesotans move indoors, gatherings occur more often in settings that allow the virus to spread more easily.

 “Minnesotans have worked hard and done their part to get us back from the edge of the cliff, and now they can help keep things on the right track,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “One year into this pandemic, we know that improvements are tenuous. If we let our guard down, COVID-19 finds a way to surge back in terrifying ways. That means it’s still very important to wear a mask and stay 6 feet from others when you are out in the community. As we look for vaccines to become more widely available for all of us, these basic protections can serve as a bridge to better days ahead.”

 Officials reiterated that all Minnesotans should continue to take precautions to combat the spread of the virus in their community – wear a mask, practice social distancing, and stay outside when possible. Minnesotans should also get tested if appropriate and download the COVIDawareMN smartphone app to get notified if they’ve been exposed to someone who tests positive.

More information on these restrictions and the state response is available at staysafe.mn.gov.