Minnesota's vaccinations are running ahead of schedule. Hospitalizations are low, and positivity rates for COVID-19 are also down.
That makes this a good time to significantly loosen the state's pandemic restrictions. Minnesotans should welcome Gov. Tim Walz's decision, announced Friday, to move ahead speedily with greater capacity limits for restaurants, bars, theaters and other businesses.
Occupancy limits for churches, salons and barbers will be gone, though social distancing will be required. Fitness centers can go to 50% occupancy from a mere 25%. Beginning in mid-April, businesses will no longer be required to have workers who can work from home do so, although it is recommended. And the Twins will be able to have up to 10,000 fans at Target Field for the April 8 home opener.
The decision to allow bars and restaurants to go to 75% capacity by Monday does not leave much time for additional hiring and food orders, but we suspect few will complain about the ability to bring in more business. The entire hospitality industry has endured some of the harshest economic consequences of this pandemic.
"We are a people of deep resiliency and grit," Walz said in making the announcement. But the hard work done "has made a difference. We rank near the bottom of infections and near the top of getting vaccinations out." That, he said, is because Minnesotans "decided to follow the science and do the things that needed to be done."
There is more work to be done, and this is no time to let up on masking, distancing and other measures. There also has to be a plan for what happens if disease variants surge. Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, who earlier had proposed a timeline with 75% for restaurants and bars by May 1, said he welcomed the governor's announcement but is hopeful that there is still a way to give business more certainty about next steps, with metrics that guide where the dial is set.
Baker smartly suggests creating an ad hoc group of legislators who can work with Walz in a cooperative way to combine the best ideas from each along with the best science. If the governor has willing partners in the Legislature, he should take advantage of that. Baker has said he would like to create the group even while Walz' emergency powers are in effect.
Similarly, Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, has been working on her own plan to reopen, using certain metrics and guided by the state Health Department. Earlier this week, Sandstede said she hoped that work would proceed on her plan not only to guide potential surges, but also "because I don't think this is the only pandemic we're ever going to face."
Those cautions aside, it is time to celebrate a bit. More and more Minnesotans are getting the vaccine every day, pushing down potential transmission rates. There's the chance to go to restaurants indoors again, to sit in a bar with a friend, to watch a movie in a theater, to catch a play, plan a wedding, to indulge in the simple pleasure of an outdoor baseball game.
More importantly, there is the chance to do this with relative safety, because we trust that Minnesotans are going to continue to do what needs to be done to keep themselves and others safe. That is what will ensure that infection rates will remain low and hospital capacity is there if needed.
"Every single week that goes by, you're going to see progress," Walz said. "This thing is coming to an end."