ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a three-phase plan Thursday to end Minnesota's COVID-19 restrictions on businesses May 28 and remove the statewide indoor mask mandate by at least July 1.
The first phase of Walz's plan removes all limits for outdoor events Friday, along with the curfew that's been in place on bars and restaurants. All remaining indoor capacity and distancing limits will end May 28. The plan includes one incentive: the mask mandate would be removed sooner than July 1 if the state reaches a 70 percent vaccination rate earlier.
"I would like to see our website get almost crashed by people saying all right, I’m done. Now’s the time. I’m going (to get vaccinated)," Walz told reporters at a news conference.
Walz is rescinding more than 20 executive orders but not ending his emergency powers. He considered the move necessary to keep the statewide eviction moratorium in place and to speed the vaccination process, but it's one that Republican lawmakers oppose.
The timeline and changes to emergency powers are part of an executive order that Walz issued Thursday. The five-member Minnesota Executive Council approved the order unanimously late in the day. Included in Walz's timeline:
- May 7: Removes limits for outdoor dining, events, and venues. Masks will still be required at large outdoor venues with more than 500 people. Eliminates the state's 11 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants.
- May 28: All remaining indoor capacity and social distancing limits will end. Masks will still be required indoors and for outdoor events that exceed 500 people.
- By July 1: The statewide mask mandate will end. The mandate will come off once 70 percent of Minnesotans ages 16 and older get at least one dose of vaccine
As of Wednesday, 59 percent of Minnesota adults had gotten a shot. At the current vaccination pace, which has slowed significantly over the past three weeks, the state would hit the 70 percent mark in the first week of June.
Business groups praise decision, Republicans critical
Minnesota business groups, longtime critics of the governor's restrictions, praised Thursday's move.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents the bar industry, said owners were "thrilled to fully reopen" in late May. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce referred to the changes as "a long time coming." Hospitality Minnesota, which represents restaurants and lodging, called it "welcome news."
Top legislative Republicans said Walz did not go far enough.
"It is true that I had a number of conversations with the governor but frankly not one thing I recommended was adopted," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said.
Gazelka said he asked Walz to allow anyone who's been vaccinated to stop wearing masks. Walz said he opted against the idea because he feared it would make mask-wearing and vaccinations more political.
Cities, businesses can impose their own requirements
Walz's executive order allows business owners to require masks in their establishments. Cities can keep local mask requirements after the statewide mandate ends.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey did not rule out doing so when asked by FOX 9 on Thursday.
"If the data leading up to July 1 shows that some form of mask requirement will help save lives, then we will keep the requirement in place," Frey said in an emailed statement.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is likely to renew his city's mask mandate before July 1, a spokesman for Carter said.
Sports venues can hold more fans
The Minnesota Twins can have full capacity at the team's next home game May 14, but the Twins said they would move more slowly. The team had been restricted to 10,000 fans maximum.
"We are currently exploring how to incrementally increase Target Field attendance safely and responsibly, beginning with our games of May 14-30, and ramping up to full capacity as appropriate," a team spokesman said.
The Minnesota Wild can have more than 5,200 fans at games starting Friday, according to the state's capacity calculator. The Minnesota Timberwolves can sell slightly less than 5,000 seats to each game. Both teams had previously been capped at 3,000 fans. They can have full capacity starting May 28.
Earlier this week, Walz telegraphed his plan to link restrictions to a 70 percent vaccination rate, saying it "changes the calculus" and would allow for a "very normal summer."
The county-by-county rates vary widely. Several counties, including Hennepin and Ramsey, are approaching 70 percent. Two, Olmsted and Cook, have already crossed it. But seven other counties in central and western Minnesota are stuck below 40 percent.
Walz and his commissioners of health and economic development stressed personal responsibility to get a vaccine.
"Folks who are not yet vaccinated really need to think hard about what additional risks they’re putting themselves and others at," Health commissioner Jan Malcolm said.