Feb 11, 2021 - Politics

Why Minnesota is keeping COVID restrictions in place for now

Illustration of a dial with progressively larger coronavirus icons for settings.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Encouraging trends in Minnesota's COVID-19 caseloads are prompting renewed calls for Gov. Tim Walz to further lift restrictions on businesses and schools. But, for the most part, the governor says you shouldn't expect a major reversal soon.

What's happening: Hospitality industry groups and legislative Republicans have called on Walz to commit to a timeline for fully reopening the state, citing weeks of declining positivity rates and hospitalizations.

  • Pressure is also mounting to allow more middle and high schoolers back into the classroom.

What he's saying: Walz, who has issued the restrictions via executive order, rebuffed calls to define specific metrics or timelines for reopening. The governor argued that while things look stable now, the emergence of new, more contagious variants creates too much uncertainty.

  • "I don’t think you can ever set the date on this, but I feel their sense of urgency," Walz said at a Tuesday press conference.
  • The DFL governor did signal he's thinking about easing restrictions for in-person instruction for older students.

Why it matters: Hospitality businesses say more certainty, even with the caveat that the timeline could change if cases rise, will allow them to plan and attract future bookings.

  • "We need to be able to signal to the market that Minnesota has a plan to move forward, that we're open for business so that we’re not losing business to other states," Hospitality Minnesota president Liz Rammer said this week.

Yes, but: While the COVID case count and vaccinations are moving things in the right direction, officials say the situation remains dangerously fluid. MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state remains "between the caution and high-risk" level on several key measures.

  • Arguments to reopen once the most vulnerable, such as assisted living residents, are vaccinated fail to account for unknowns about long-term effects of infection among young, healthy people, Walz added.

The bottom line: An announcement about secondary schools — which Walz said is dependent on guidance from the federal government — could come within the next week.

  • But while small tweaks to broader restrictions could be issued, businesses should be prepared to wait for a bigger "dial turn."

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