Walz Resumes ‘Pause’ on Indoor Dining
Gov. Walz visiting a Bemidji water plant in late October. Gov. Tim Walz on Facebook

Walz Resumes ‘Pause’ on Indoor Dining

Business group maintains small businesses are at a “crisis point.”
Gov. Walz visiting a Bemidji water plant in late October. Gov. Tim Walz on Facebook

Before signing a $217 million financial relief package for small businesses, Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday extended his four-week “pause” on indoor dining. The latter decision prompted swift messages of disapproval from state business groups and Republican lawmakers.

The governor acknowledged that the closures were “totally unfair” but emphasized that they were the best course of action to stem community spread. Virus transmission is much more likely, the governor said, in indoor settings with people from different households.

“As we’re coming over the latest peak, there’s a very real chance .. that there will be another peak coming,” Walz said on Wednesday afternoon.

Under the governor’s latest orders, bars, restaurants, and breweries will remain closed for indoor service through Jan. 11. The latest order does loosen some restrictions on gyms and fitness clubs, however: Starting Saturday, gyms will be able to open at 25 percent capacity, though group classes won’t return until Jan. 4.

Walz is also allowing restaurants and bars to open up for outdoor dining, though the governor acknowledged that would be small recompense for restaurateurs. “I know we’re in the middle of December,” he said. “I know this doesn’t make folks whole.”

On Wednesday, Minnesota reported 92 deaths due to Covid-19, one of the highest single-day deaths for the state.

In a statement, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said small businesses are at a “crisis point.”

“This could mean closing their doors forever,” he said.

Meanwhile, Liz Rammer, president and CEO of hospitality trade group Hospitality MN, said her group is “gravely disappointed” with the governor’s decision.

“Since March, we have been at the table, in good faith, making the case that hospitality businesses are able to operate safely, balancing public health and economic viability,” Rammer said. “The state’s very own data supports our case, and they have been unwilling and unable to show us the analysis that says otherwise.”

A number of restaurants in Minnesota, most outside the Twin Cities, have vowed to defy the governor’s order and reopen.

When pressed about Wisconsin’s similar case count despite a lack of restrictions on indoor dining, Minnesota health commissioner Jan Malcolm acknowledged that bars and restaurants aren’t the sole places where viruses spread. But those types of environments do enable an “amplification of spread,” she said.

Though hospitality businesses expressed concern about the latest order, gyms welcomed the news. In a statement, Chanhassen-based fitness chain Life Time said the reopening of gyms marked a “step forward in recognition of the vital role health and fitness facilities play in helping thousands of Minnesotans maintain their physical and mental health.”