MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Friday announced his latest “dial turn” on COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing thousands of fans in stadiums—a move he says represents Minnesota’s progress towards normalcy after the pandemic has upended daily life for a year.

“We’re going to win this thing,” Walz said. “And this may be today not the end, but it’s darn sure the beginning of the end.”

Starting Monday, bars and restaurants will be able to increase operations at 75% capacity; gyms will be able to operate at 50% capacity; and there will no longer be any limits for salons and religious services. Social distancing is still required and the 11 p.m. curfew at restaurants remains in place.

The governor is also allowing thousands to gather at larger venues, making dreams of fans in the stands for the Twins home opener April 8 a reality.

On April 1, outdoor venues like Target Field can operate at 25% capacity up to 10,000 people. Indoor venues can hold up to 3,000 people at 15% capacity if people are sitting and 10% with a limit of 1,500 if people are standing.

Other changes taking effect on Monday:

  • Social gatherings: allowed with up to 50 people outdoors or 15 people indoors.
  • Youth sports: Pod size increasing to 50 for outdoor activities.
  • Entertainment venues: Increasing allowable occupancy to 50%, up from 25%, both indoors and outdoors, with a limit of 250.
  • Seating at the bar increases to parties of four.

The announcement comes as close to 1.2 million Minnesotans have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and Walz anticipates more doses should become available more quickly in the coming weeks. He told reporters Friday 700,000 Minnesotans or more could be vaccinated by the end of March.

An uptick in vaccinations coupled with a decrease in hospitalizations and cases per 100,000 people are driving the changes, he said. A year ago Saturday Walz declared the COVID-19 outbreak a peacetime emergency in Minnesota.

“We see this now is not a pretty stretched out time between dial turns,” Walz said. “We think those downturns can come relatively quickly because of that vaccination.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday directed all governors to make any adult eligible for vaccines by May 1 and signaled July 4 gatherings could look more normal, which Walz echoed on Friday.

“That’s an indication to me that there is going to be a significant bump in supply,” he said, adding he believes Minnesota is on track to expand eligible populations even sooner so that everyone who wants a vaccine can get their shot by June.

One factor, though, that could alter the state’s plans is if the more infectious COVID-19 variants in the community—like a cluster of the U.K. variant in Carver County—trigger severe outcomes like increased hospitalization and death.

“We are thinking that over the next three to four weeks we should see if these variants are going to be a game changer,” Walz said.

On Thursday, Minnesota confirmed the first case of variant that originated in South Africa. In Carver County, there is an outbreak of the U.K. variant.

Caroline Cummings