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Minnesota governor signs order allowing outdoor dining amid pandemic



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Wednesday that formally implements the next phase of his “Stay Safe MN” plan, which will allow restaurants and bars to offer outdoor dining and salons and barber shops to reopen starting next Monday.

Those businesses must observe capacity limits and follow other safety restrictions. There’s still no target date for allowing restaurants and bars to serve guests indoors. Walz acknowledged at a news conference that the terms of his order aren’t substantially different from the “cautious, strategic turn of the dial” he announced for these businesses last week.

The governor took note of the grim milestone of the U.S. passing 100,000 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday. He said the peak in Minnesota is “still a ways off” and that how well Minnesotans comply with health guidelines — including social distancing, wearing masks and staying home when sick — will have an impact.

Many restaurant owners have complained that allowing outdoor-only dining doesn’t give them enough relief from the shutdown that Walz imposed starting March 17, with exceptions for takeout and delivery service. The governor acknowledged the continuing economic pain, but said long dinners with friends in smaller spaces pose one of the higher risks for spreading the coronavirus.

“It was never meant to make people whole, it was one step in the direction,” he said of outdoor dining. But he added that the discussions have given his administration a “jump start” on what the next steps might include.

Minnesota reported 510 newly confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday and a new high of 33 deaths. The new statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health raised the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 932 and its confirmed total of positive cases to 22,464. The department also reported one new probable but unconfirmed COVID-19 death to raise the state’s total 10. The department said 598 people were hospitalized as of Wednesday, up 28 from Tuesday, with 260 in intensive care, a new one-day high that was up two from Tuesday.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said at the governor’s news conference that the growth in cases has been moderate and relatively stable toward a peak expected in late June or early July, but that officials are closely watching the rising need for ICU beds, a key measure of the strain on the health care system.

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday showed that 80% of the state’s 1,257 ICU beds were in use, with a surge capacity of 585 more within 24 hours and another 541 within 72 hours.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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