by CHRIS ROGERS
Outdoor event capacity limits will be lifted tomorrow, indoor capacity limits will end on May 28, and the state’s mask mandate will end by July 1 or when 70 percent of Minnesotans over 16 get vaccinated, whichever is sooner, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced today.
Under the governor’s latest executive order, starting tomorrow at noon, there will be no state limits on outdoor event capacity, no social distancing requirements for outdoor events, no mask requirement for outdoor events with less than 500 people, no limit on the size of outdoor social gatherings, and the limit on the size of indoor social gatherings will be bumped up to 50 people.
On May 28, all state restrictions on the size of indoor events will end, and the only remaining state COVID-safety rules will be a requirement for masks indoors and at outdoor events over 500 people, according to the order. The mask mandate will end on July 1 or sooner, if 70 percent of Minnesotans over 16 get vaccinated before then. Separate from the governor’s order, the city of Winona currently has a local rule requiring masks in indoor public settings.
The announcement came as statewide infections are down from a peak in April, deaths are relatively stable, and 47 percent of Minnesotans have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine. With 45 percent of residents having received at least one dose, Winona County is on par with the state average, while local infections have risen somewhat in the past week.
State officials highlighted a different vaccine metric: Nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans over 16 have received at least one dose of vaccine. “If you want to end the mask requirement, the simplest way is to just get that last 10 percent,” Walz said.
Walz fielded both criticism from Republican state leaders — who said the rollback of restrictions was overdue and didn’t go far enough — and concern from some citizens that lifting COVID safety rules would put people at risk. "The emergency is over, and the mandates need to end," Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.
For his part, Walz said, “Our nation-leading vaccination effort has put us in a strong position to safely transition toward life as we used to know it. The pandemic is not over and we have work to do. But from the State Fairgrounds, to doctor’s offices … Minnesotans now have more opportunities than ever to get the vaccine when and where they want to. As cases recede, more people get vaccinated every day, and vaccines are readily available to all who want it, we can now confidently and safely set out our path back to normal.”
Even after state restrictions are lifted, local governments, businesses, and organizations may still choose to impose their own COVID-safety rules, state officials noted, and individuals may still need to thoughtfully consider what activities are safe, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated.
“For those who are not yet vaccinated, I just want to say, many of the activities that are no longer going to be prohibited by government action are still risky for people who aren’t vaccinated,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcom. “So we will continue to urge that people make well-informed decisions about the risk they are putting themselves and others at if they remain unvaccinated.”
Walz highlighted that 2.6 million Minnesotans have received at least one shot of vaccine, and there are only 473,000 people to go to get the state to the 70-percent threshold. “We have the doses that we can get this done just as quickly as possible if Minnesotans are willing to get out there and get it done,” Walz said. For those sick of hearing from him, Walz added, “The way to not see me anymore is to get a vaccine and end this thing.”
Although 70 percent of Minnesotans over 16 would only be 55 percent of the state’s total population, Malcom said reaching that threshold would make a significant difference on transmission. More importantly, she said, nearly 90 percent of Minnesotans over 65 have been vaccinated, drastically reducing hospitalizations and deaths.
More information on state COVID rules are available at staysafe.mn.gov.