Governor Tim Walz pictured in 2020. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

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Minnesota is poised to enter a new stage of the coronavirus pandemic — one that’s less aggressive in containing the virus.

Gov. Tim Walz is letting his stay-at-home order expire on Sunday night, rather than adding on more time to slow transmission of COVID-19. Beginning Monday, retail businesses will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity and group gatherings of 10 or fewer people, including at places of worship, will be permitted once again.

The governor made the announcement in a broadcast address to the state Wednesday night. After the speech, he conceded to reporters that his moves were something of a gamble on human behavior and on the virus not spreading too aggressively.

“This is either going to work or not work,” Walz said. “People are either going to stay out of the hospital or get in it.”

Restrictions on restaurants, bars, theaters, bowling alleys and venues that attract large crowds will remain, however.

“We’re not flipping a switch and everything’s going back to normal at once,” Walz said in his address.

The DFL governor won’t permit restaurants to legally resume dine-in service for now, keeping them takeout-only. He said he’s instructed his agencies to assemble a plan over the next week for a “limited and safe” reopening of bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation June 1.

When they do come back, those establishments are likely to face capacity limits. Walz also said he signed an executive order ensuring that people can raise safety concerns about their workplaces without discrimination or retaliation.

It’s a similar situation for hair salons and barber shops, gyms and other currently restricted activities that haven’t been able to serve customers since March. Salons and barbershops are allowed to sell products for curbside pickup but aren’t allowed to provide services in-shop.

There were a few other noteworthy changes for what would be allowed, assuming people follow the distance and gathering rules:

  • Families are allowed overnight camping at a single campsite, not in a developed campground. Private and public developed campgrounds remain closed to recreational camping.” Summer day camps are allowed but not overnight camps.
  • Small one-on-one or one-on-two person guided and instructional activities such as guided fishing, birding, or outdoor fitness training can resume.
  • Outdoor tournaments, competitions, practices, and sports that allow for social distance.

During his Wednesday evening address, Walz praised Minnesotans for toughing it out the past two months, saying the stay-home order keeping Minnesotans from congregating in crowded public places had helped check the spread of the disease, saved thousands of lives and bought Minnesota time to secure needed health care supplies and prepare for a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

He acknowledged that the move had cost tens of thousands of Minnesotans their jobs as retail, hospitality and other sectors shut down.

Even as he announced the end of the stay-at-home order, he pleaded with Minnesotans to stay smart about being safe. He said he was counting on people to work from home if possible, wear masks out, stay 6 feet from others even when you’re in groups of 10 or fewer and get tested if you show symptoms of COVID-19.

“We are still in the heart of this pandemic and this can go in a bad direction quickly,” he said. The goal, he added, was to keep the spread of the disease to a simmer and not a boil.

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