After approving the restart of Minnesota high school and youth sports practice and allowing teams to resume playing games, Gov. Tim Walz answered one last big question Wednesday:
Fans can be there, too, but their numbers will be limited.
Indoor venues such as gyms and arenas must limit capacity to 25%, with a maximum of up to 150 people, the governor announced as part of loosening several restrictions he ordered to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. Up to 250 people can attend at outdoor events.
Officials from the Minnesota State High School League believe that teams, officials and other personnel essential to the game are not counted toward those venue limits, as was the case during the fall.
High school sports practices resumed on Monday, with games approved to begin Jan. 14. Use of masks will continue to be required.
Walz's updated order limits capacity at fitness centers, which also reopened Monday, to 25% capacity and with 9 feet of social distancing between people and machines. Fitness classes can increase to 25 people, with social distancing and mask requirements.
The changes come with Minnesota seeing a substantial decline in its COVID-19 positivity rate. A surge in November, attributed to community transmission of the virus, led to the state shutting down football and volleyball early and delaying the start of winter sports.
The high school league plans to post updated guidance to its member schools regarding the order's spectator limits on its website. It's also expected to be shared with athletic directors and other school officials at a weekly league meeting on Thursday. Similar to guidance provided for fall sports, schools will have control over how to implement the limits.
Managing crowds with the new limits could be more challenging this winter in sports where high-profile athletes and matchups between top teams can fill arenas and gyms. Last winter basketball stars Paige Bueckers and Jalen Suggs routinely attracted big crowds, including casual fans and others, almost every time they took the floor.
Those limits vary in some respects from what was in place during the fall for indoor venues.
Many schools did not allow fans at girls' swimming meets last fall. Some meets were held with opponents competing in different pools.
However, the 250-person limit was instituted for volleyball, which initially had been delayed until spring. The guidance, from the Minnesota Department of Education, came out on Oct. 8, the same day regular season matches were set to begin.
For outdoor events, the 250-person limit mirrors what was allowed at football and soccer games. Schools were allowed to be more restrictive, and some that were in distance learning did not permit fans. Most that allowed fans established systems for making tickets available, often limiting them to two per athlete.
Staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque contributed to this report.