Walz to impose sweeping restrictions Wednesday in virus fight; dining, gyms, sports will face limits

Gov. Tim Walz will impose sweeping new restrictions across Minnesota on Wednesday as the state struggles to fight the coronavirus and prevent a crisis in hospitals.

Walz plans to announce the new restrictions in a statewide televised speech at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The changes will include a stoppage for youth and high school sports. Bars, restaurants, fitness centers, gyms and social gatherings will face tighter restrictions, the governor's spokesman said.

"I know none of this is hard. None of it is easy," Walz told reporters on a teleconference Tuesday afternoon. "We’re doing it based on science. I need Minnesotans’ help on this." 

Walz revealed that he would halt youth and high school sports for both the upcoming winter season, as well as the ongoing fall season. People should expect the high school football season will end before the playoffs are over, the governor cautioned.

Minnesota has reported more than 47,000 new coronavirus cases and 245 new deaths over the past week. The upper Midwest is seeing a surge in virus cases that would have been unfathomable even six weeks ago.

More than 1,500 Minnesotans are now hospitalized, including more than 300 in intensive care. Walz said the biggest concern is staffing, because hundreds of hospital workers are off the job after being exposed to the virus in their communities. The state has the ability to add 400 more ICU beds within 72 hours without resorting to field hospitals as other states -- including Wisconsin -- have done, the governor said.

Tuesday, Walz laid the groundwork for new restrictions by inviting people to speak who had been infected with the coronavirus or whose family members had been hospitalized.

Former Republican state Rep. Nick Zerwas said he was in intensive care for five days last week and considered it a miracle that he recovered. Zerwas has had 10 heart surgeries because of a severe heart condition.

Zerwas, of Elk River, said he downplayed the virus this summer, when there were fewer cases and because he didn't know anyone in Sherburne County who was infected.

"This is a completely different ballgame. Everything has changed. The virus is here. If we don't act now, God help us," Zerwas told reporters. "There are days and there are times to find political issues in which to pick fights and debate about. What my hope and message is today is that COVID isn’t one of them." 

Last week, Walz imposed a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants, banned bar seating, and limited private gatherings to 10 people or less. He will go further on Wednesday, but other states have already done much more.

On Sunday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed indoor dining, high schools, colleges, casinos and movie theaters for three weeks to slow the spread in her state.

Whitmer and Walz joined fellow Democratic governors Tony Evers of Wisconsin, JB Pritzker of Illinois and Andy Beshear of Kentucky on a virtual news conference Tuesday to urge people to wear masks and stay home for the holidays.

The governors said they talked regularly about best practices and how to get public buy-in, but they said they were not coordinating shutdown orders that would be the same for each state.

"We have not acted in a coordinated manner in terms of individual decisions because we do have unique challenges in our states, but I think our goal is the same," Whitmer said.

"Those are things that we share: how are these things going to be received in Michigan or Wisconsin? And that is helpful to us," Walz said.