MANKATO — Fitness centers are allowed to reopen at reduced capacity Saturday. Youth sports may resume practices next month and elementary students will be allowed to return to school in January. But in his announcement Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz did not lift restrictions on indoor service at bars and restaurants.
Although mostly impractical in winter, bars and restaurants will be allowed to resume outdoor dining at 50% capacity or 100 customers.
The new COVID-19-related restrictions will extend until Jan. 11.
State guidelines have been issued for elementary schools, allowing them to reopen for in-person instruction Jan. 18 under new safety protocols. Local districts are still able to determine what capacity schools operate at.
Fitness centers and gyms also will be able to reopen at a quarter of their capacity, with a cap of 100 people. People must wear masks and maintain 12 feet of social distancing.
Amy Rykhus, owner of A R Fitness, is happy to be able to open at any level. The gym has been closed to in-person workouts over the past four weeks and has been holding virtual classes and check-ins with members.
She received many messages from friends and members Wednesday, excited that the gym can reopen.
Rykhus said she had already spaced out equipment and had been enforcing masks and social distancing before the most recent closure, so she’s prepared for the new regulations and is ready to enforce them in her gym.
“I just want to be open,” she said.
The most recent shutdown had been difficult for Rykhus because she had already been taking extra steps to keep the gym safe and open. She relies on her business to help support her family and says the loss of business while the gym is closed has been hard.
The fitness center specializes in small-group classes and one-on-ones so the new reduced capacity restriction will not be difficult to implement, she said.
For restaurants, the newest round of restrictions allows them to open for outdoor service at reduced capacity, which some owners criticize as not being realistic because of the cold weather.
Ray Winter, owner of Indian Island Winery near Janesville, does not plan to reopen after the new restrictions go into effect Saturday.
He said it’s ridiculous to open for outdoor service in Minnesota in December.
The winery has been open for a couple of hours a day for pickup service, but Winter said it’s a fraction of what they can do normally.
For Mankato Brewery, Tim Tupy said it may not be worth it to open their taproom to outdoor service because of the weather.
“I can’t imagine someone trying to eat food outside right now,” Tupy said.
The taproom is a small part of Mankato Brewery’s business. About 65% of the production brewery’s sales come from drafts sold to bars and restaurants. They had an immediate drop in business as restaurants and bars closed their doors to indoor dining last month. Tupy said most restaurants are sitting on alcohol inventory and won’t need to buy more while continuing to operate without indoor dining.
“To-go beer is not ideal. Restaurants are not designed to be a liquor store,” Tupy said.
With the reduced business, Mankato Brewery is still open at reduced hours, offering growlers and crowlers to go. The brewery is also using the time to create and try out new beers.
“We just go with the flow at this point,” Tupy said.
Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak issued a statement saying the extended restrictions are devastating.
“Governor Walz’s order continues blanket rules that are resulting in the near elimination of an entire industry, employing thousands of Minnesotans,” he said. “The paltry offering of limited outdoor dining in the middle of a Minnesota winter doesn’t even begin to make up for the forced closures. While Governor Walz’s dials turn, more and more of Minnesota’s restaurants and bars will be forced to turn their lights off permanently.”
The new restrictions will also allow youth sports teams to resume practicing Jan. 4. Fitness classes will also be able to start again on that date.
Walz also announced that elementary schools will be able to resume in-person learning next month if they follow new safety protocols, although the decision lies with school districts. Many area schools kept their elementary schools open after surpassing the previously recommended community cases threshold for closure, noting few or no cases within the schools.
Five area districts continue to have their elementary students in the building at least part time. The leaders of many of the districts that have gone entirely remote have said they will re-evaluate after the new year.
“There is strong evidence we are starting to turn a corner thanks to the hard work of Minnesotans over the last few weeks to keep each other safe,” Walz said during a press conference Wednesday. “But we aren’t out of the woods yet. This way forward will help bridge the gap to vaccination by continuing to protect hospital capacity while prioritizing getting our kids back in the classroom and supporting Minnesotans’ quality of life.”