Minnesota officials allow larger dining groups in restaurants, as COVID cases continue to rise

Published 6:12 pm Thursday, October 8, 2020

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By Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesota officials have loosened some key restrictions involving restaurants and specified how many spectators may attend indoor high school games.

The Minnesota Department of Health rolled out new guidelines, updating previous instructions for the hospitality industry to limit the spread of COVID-19. The changes include:

  • Per-table limits for dining parties rise to 10. The limit had been four, with up to six from a single household
  • Dancing is still discouraged, but health officials listed ways to potentially limit spread such as wearing masks and restricting the number of people on the dance floor.

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Steve Grove, the commissioner of Minnesota’s Employment and Economic Development department said the change is a “just a small tweak that in consultation with industry, we think makes sense.”

“Our epidemiologists and our health department looked at this. They said this isn’t one of those things that we think is going to make a major difference in the state of the virus today,” Grove said.

Also on Thursday, the Minnesota State High School League issued new guidelines on the number of fans at indoor sporting events. On its Facebook page, the League says it will allow two spectators per participant at high school sporting events, such as volleyball. State officials had initially advised fans against attending indoor sporting events, although it hadn’t banned them.

Many overall limits remain, such as a cap on 250 people at outdoor events and capacity restrictions inside restaurants and bars. The guidance comes in several new documents posted to the health department’s website dated Oct. 8.

The Minnesota Department of Education relayed that guidance in an update of its own, as well.

The changes are among the most significant easing in state guidance on social and community gatherings in months after Gov. Tim Walz allowed in-person dining, fitness center openings and limited outdoor events in a round of loosening restrictions in June.

Both the Big 10 and the Minnesota State High School League initially canceled some seasons for high-intensity and high contact fall sports like football, as well as some indoor sports, like volleyball. Both the University of Minnesota and high schools also will have hockey seasons, after some initial doubts.

Minnesota health officials report record high numbers of new cases of COVID-19, topping 1,000 again in new data released Thursday. Seven of the top 10 daily totals of new cases have come in the last two and a half weeks, and more than half of the daily totals so far in October have topped 1,000 cases.

Updated numbers also show that Monday had the second-highest number of hospital admissions so far in the pandemic, just one short of a record 86 set in May.

The changes come just hours before high school volleyball matches were set to start for a shortened season, leaving venue operators with a short period of time in which to learn about requirements involving reservations and contact tracing.

State health department officials said that the changes were actually a signal to schools and sporting events to limit the number of spectators at games, meets and matches, in response to concerns about growing case number of COVID-19.